Alberta regional chief Marlene Poitras, left, interim Yukon regional chief Kluane Adamek, and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, along with co-chairs Harold Tarbell, Racelle Kooy, and Tim Catcheway, listen as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, centre, speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Alberta regional chief Marlene Poitras, left, interim Yukon regional chief Kluane Adamek, and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, along with co-chairs Harold Tarbell, Racelle Kooy, and Tim Catcheway, listen as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, centre, speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Indigenous communities need more mental health support in wake of COVID-19: report

A number of First Nations reported increased drug and alcohol use and relapse

Many Indigenous communities are struggling to cope with dual states of emergency, thanks to the pandemic and its effects on those with mental illness and addictions.

That’s according to a new report from a committee of MPs who spent the last year studying the effects of COVID-19 on Indigenous populations in Canada.

Representatives from dozens of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and organizations painted a grim picture of the state of health and social infrastructure in their jurisdictions.

They noted many Indigenous communities were already dealing with mental health, addictions and suicide crises before the pandemic.

Now, people are more isolated than ever and access to mental health services has been hindered due to lockdowns, cancelled programming, closed public buildings and staff burnout.

Limited access to therapy and treatment centres has led to cases of substance withdrawal syndrome in some communities under lockdown and an increase in the number and severity of violent incidents in others.

“The anxiety of the pandemic weighs on all of us, and for First Nations these stresses have been compounded for many people due to pre-existing mental health concerns, often a result of intergenerational trauma,” Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, Chief Marlene Poitras, told the committee in November.

A number of First Nations reported increased drug and alcohol use and relapse.

“We needed some serious help to battle the drug and alcohol and domestic housing issues that were causing our cases to rise dramatically,” Erik Blaney, executive council member of the Tla’amin Nation in British Columbia, told the committee.

“It was then that we realized we were in a dual pandemic, with the many opioid overdoses happening within the community.”

Liberal committee chair Bob Bratina said he heard an overall “sense of desperation” from communities grappling with how COVID-19 has been exacerbating already precarious conditions.

Long-standing challenges involving a lack of adequate housing and clean dinking-water, staffing challenges as well as a lack of reliable internet and phone service are not new problems for these communities. But they have led to new concerns during the pandemic, including the impacts of these challenges on mental health.

Racism, food insecurity and other systemic issues also contribute to the need for more dedicated dollars and attention paid to the needs of Indigenous populations in Canada, Bratina said.

“It really all ties together, which sadly reflects on the fact that we were not providing a sustainable environment for people in remote and Northern communities.”

The committee compiled a comprehensive list of over 40 recommendations, including calling for more dedicated emergency mental health supports and a review of federal funding mechanisms to ensure Indigenous communities have access to adequate, flexible and predictable funding for mental health and addictions treatment in their own communities.

The federal Liberals did commit $82.5 million in new funding for better access to mental health services during COVID-19, in addition to $425 million in existing annual funding earmarked for Indigenous mental health.

But some say this amount is not enough.

Carol Hopkins, executive director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, said much of this funding is time-limited and temporary. More sustained and stable resources are needed she said.

Brenda Restoule, CEO of the First Peoples Wellness Centre in north-eastern Ontario, agreed, noting mental wellness supports and services in Indigenous communities have been “consistently underfunded compared to Canadians, resulting in a patchwork of supports and services that vary across the country.”

“Mental wellness teams and (addictions) treatment centres have already shifted services to virtual platforms, but the shift is hampered by poor connectivity and accessibility to technology as well as limitations in workforce capacity related to both reliable and culturally relevant information on ethics, privacy and liability, and access to supervision and IT support,” Restoule said.

“Investments in connectivity, infrastructure, technology, sustained access to virtual care and human resources must happen more immediately. Otherwise, the gap in health inequity for Indigenous People will continue to grow.”

The NDP is calling on the Trudeau government to forego the usual 120 days it has to respond to the committee’s recommendations, urging Ottawa to instead get to work immediately on solving these issues.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 magnified systemic discrimination against Indigenous women: Bennett

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenousmental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Salmon Arm Homes for Rent/Sale Etc. is a popular Facebook page used by those with places for rent and people in need of them. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Carpenter building homes in Salmon Arm unable to find place to rent

Property manager says it’s easier to find work in Salmon Arm than a place to live

Salmon Arm City Hall is closing between noon and 2 p.m. effective April 12, 2021. (File photo)
Pandemic precautions change hours at Salmon Arm city hall

Public will still be able to access services online during two hours when facility closed

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Interior Health announces 89 cases of COVID-19 in the region

Currently, there are 900 active cases in the region

The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
Suspicion of ‘fake news media’ makes rally uncomfortable for Salmon Arm event photographer

More than 300 people counted at city park for ‘Rally For Food Security’

B.C. wineries are open for indoor tasting despite new provincial health regulations. Photo- 
50th Parallel Winery, Instagram.
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A five-storey, 60-unit building has been proposed for 8709 Jubilee Rd. E., Summerland. The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing on March 22. (Image by GTA Architecture)
Zoning, OCP amendments adopted for Summerland housing development

Council gives final readings for controversial five-storey, 60-unit housing development

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

The former Summerland Asset Development Initiative building on Prairie Valley Road in Summerland was suggested as the site for a temporary transitional housing facility for the community. However, Summerland council has rejected this proposal. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland council rejects transitional housing facility

Concerns raised about short timeline and condition of municipally-owned building

Shayla, an 8-pound black and grey Havanese, was stolen from outside a store on Banks Road on Saturday. (Contributed)
Stolen pup located, Kelowna RCMP confirms

Mounties said on April 12 that Shayla, the 8-pound, black and grey Havanese dog, has been located safe and sound

Penticton Vees continue their winning streak carrying a 5-0 win title as of Sunday night's hockey action. (Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees continue winning streak

Sunday night’s 6-1 win has them with five in a row since the start of the season

Most Read