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

The Latoria South section of the Royal Bay development in Colwood could include a new long-term care facility. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood’s Royal Bay could be home to new long-term care facilities

Capital Regional Hospital District board approves $8M land purchase for purpose

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply as overdose emergency turns 5

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth gets combative with police at Victoria hospital

VicPD officer injured, youth kept in care under Mental Health Act

A man with a history of sexual offences was arrested after he followed and aggressively tried to talk to two young woman on the weekend. Black Press File Photo
Man convicted of sexual offences arrested after teens followed in Victoria

Women hid in a Quadra Village convenience store as man aggressively tried to get in

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School April 14 to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

Music classes, inclusion services, reading programs on the line

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

One of the grand prizes for this year's Hometown Heroes Lottery includes a seaside home at SookePoint, $1.5 million, and an Audi Quattro. (Photo courtesy of Hometown Heroes)
Hometown Heroes Lottery features seaside home in Sooke

A stunning seaside home in Sooke could be yours for the price… Continue reading

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

Homicide investigators who asked not to be identified put up signs Wednesday, April 14, along the Nanaimo Parkway in the area where a body was found March 31. RCMP are asking for witnesses or dash cam footage as the suspicious death has now been ruled a homicide. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Suspicious death along the highway in Nanaimo now being investigated as a homicide

RCMP identify victim as Randell Charles Thomas, repeat call for any information related to the case

Most Read