Health Canada official says spending extra $50 Million on FN mental wellness teams ‘utopian’

Health Canada official said it’s “utopian” to believe department can find the dollars for the level of mental health resources required to meet First Nation needs.

APTN National News
A senior Health Canada official said it’s “utopian” to believe the department can find the dollars to pay for the level of mental health resources needed to meet First Nation mental wellness needs, according to Parliamentary transcripts highlighted Friday by the NDP.

The NDP sent media a link to the transcripts which are from a May 31 meeting of an ongoing Parliamentary study by the Indigenous affairs committee into the suicide crisis facing First Nations.

NDP MP Charlie Angus was pressing Health Canada’s Tom Wong, executive director of office of population and public health, on the number of mental wellness teams currently servicing First Nation communities, when the official made the “utopian” comment. Wong said Health Canada was directly funding 10 servicing the regions and another through the First Nation Health Authority in British Columbia.

In the exchange, Wong agreed about 80 teams were actually needed, but concluded the Assembly of First Nations’ suggested target was simply a “utopian” goal.

“If we wanted to look at a utopian situation, yes, we want to go up to (80),” said Wong.

“It’s not utopian. This is about making sure that every community has a mental health wellness team so their kids aren’t killing themselves. You say you have 10. They say they need 80, so have you costed out what it would take to get us there?” said Angus.

“Right now, we are actually doing the calculation on how much that would cost, yes, and we would very much like to expand those mental health wellness team services,” said Wong.

He later stated the additional cost would be between $40 million to $50 million.

The NDP on Friday called on the Justin Trudeau government to immediately boost spending for mental health services in Indigenous communities following another suicide crisis in a northern Saskatchewan.

During a press conference in Saskatoon on Friday, NDP MPs Georgina Jolibois and Angus called on the Justin Trudeau government to come with the funds to close the shortfall facing mental health services for First Nations.

“Not only do our elders, youth and their families need immediate support to address this mental health crisis, they require long-term and culturally appropriate solutions,” said Jolibois. “We cannot continue to stand by and watch our Indigenous youth fall through the cracks. They deserve better”

Four girls, aged 10 to 14, recently committed suicide in the communities of Stanley Mission, La Ronge and Deschambault Lake.

This follows three suicides by youth in the northern Ontario First Nation of Pikangikum during a two week span in September.

A rash of suicide attempts and ideations hit Attawapiskat, a Cree community in Ontario’s James Bay region, in March following the death of a 13 year-old girl last autumn.

That same month, in Manitoba, Pimicikamak Cree Nation declared a statement of emergency following six suicides in two months.

ND MP Charlie Angus said the Liberal government needs to walk their talk.

“We need to end the Band-Aid approach and turn our culture of deniability into a culture of accountability that puts kids first,” said Angus.

Health Canada recently unveiled a toll free 24/7 help line providing service in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut: 1-855-242-3310

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