Health : Provincial Conference Targets Mental Health

// // Posted in Aboriginal Health News, First Nations

First Nations Health Council

Mental health care representatives from around the province met in Vancouver January 16-17 connecting and co-ordinating with the goal of better addressing current mental health and wellness issues. The Community Action Initiative (CAI) ‘Knowledge Exchange: Building from Within and Building Outreach’ two-day session saw a number presenters, interactive education sessions and networking opportunities for front-line and executive liaisons from around B.C.

One in five people in B.C. will experience significant mental health or substance use problems every year and direct and indirect costs associated with these issues can total over $6 Billion in this province alone. It’s a concern that effects the entire population and like many health related issues, statistics show that it impacts First Nations populations at a much higher degree.

Mental health is often at the top of the list when speaking about the current health issues facing First Nations.

In 2007 rates of hospitalization for mental and behavioural disorders due to substance use was significantly higher for status First Nations than the rest of the population. The 2006 Transformative Change Accord: First Nations Health Plan (TCA:FNHP) calls on the province of B.C. to work with its First Nations to establish mental health programs to address substance abuse and youth suicide in First Nations people.

“The CAI has provided the opportunity for First Nation communities to develop relationships with various partners to address mental wellness and substance use issues,” said Michelle DeGroot, Executive Director of Health Actions with the interim First Nations Health Authority (iFNHA) who presented on federal and provincial partnerships from a First Nations perspective. “Through these relationships and partnerships, innovative opportunities have arisen that will help all those involved.”

The CAI conference touched on project initiative updates, media training, case study success stories, discussions and building on partnerships, among other topics.

CAI is a group of government, labour, business, First Nations representatives and others with varied experience in mental health and addiction services. In supporting communities to identify areas of concern regarding these issues, grants are used to assist community partners in meeting and developing action plans encouraging collaboration and participation in communities.

The program is funded through a $10 million grant from the province of B.C. and includes projects such as the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation Eniyud Health Services Happiness Project, Young Parents Support Network, Swan Bay Rediscovery Program Society, Team Empowerment Awareness Movement at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, Culturally Relevant Land-Based Practice as a Path to Holistic and Sustainable Urban Wellness with the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society, and others.

The iFNHA participates on this committee, along with the Metis Nation of B.C. and B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, to facilitate community based service participation in the fund. These three organizations also work with federal, provincial and Health Authority partners to put into action the larger Mental Wellness and Substance Use items contained in the health plans.

In 2010, B.C. issued the Healthy Minds, Healthy People 10-year plan to address mental health and substance use in the province setting a number of ambitious targets. The plan recognizes that First Nations have unique needs and benefit from having culturally specific programs catering directly to their needs created through input and leadership from First Nation governments and communities.

From a First Nations perspective, mental wellness has been described as ‘the balance between the social, physical, spiritual and emotional life of a First Nation’s person’. Many factors contribute to high levels of substance misuse, suicide and other mental health issues within First Nations populations. Some include recovering from a history of colonization and assimilation, current systemic discrimination, loss of tradition, language and culture, residential schooling and child apprehension.

Based on community feedback, other key issues related to Mental Health and Wellness that face B.C. First Nations include lack of cultural competency among service providers, lack of treatment facilities, limited access to programs and services, lack of programs related to family violence, youth support, counselling, intervention and homelessness.

An extensive list has been created by First Nations communities recommending priority work like ensuring mental health and wellness is a core component of all First Nations community health plans, increasing programs and services in communities, addressing provincial and federal jurisdictional issues, including cultural competency training for all professionals in the field, larger integrations of modern and traditional healing methods and many more.

Turning recommendations into action is the next step in the process.

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