The recent Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) convention in Regina helped a village councillor from Île-à-la-Crosse feel a bit more optimistic about the mental health crisis in the North.
Gerald Roy, who also serves as deputy mayor in the community, posted a question during the open-forum ‘bear-pit’ sessions at the meeting. This is where a dialogue took place with cabinet ministers, including Premier-elect Scott Moe, who responded to inquiries from the floor, answering in 60-second bits.
“We have high rates of suicide, with young people taking their lives on an almost daily basis…we need some assistance in the North,” Roy said when he approached the mic. “We’re doing our part, we are having discussions, we want to come up with a solution but we need your help, including the federal government’s. So please, give me some answers today that I can take to my fellow municipal constituents.”
Roy said it’s been an ongoing dialogue between northern municipal and indigenous leaders. He said there is a strong need for more direct mental health and addictions services in the northern portion of the province, with the addition of treatment centres and health professionals.
“I think it’s important because we see many of our young people struggling,” he said. “Even the adults do. When we see small communities struggling with those types of challenges, it hits even harder, because everybody’s related or knows everybody. The impact is tremendous and the grieving goes on for a long time.”
Greg Ottenbreit, the minister responsible for rural and remote Health said these issues are top of mind and top priority.
“These issues keep arising, and it’s been more a reactionary response up to this point, I admit that,” he said. “We’ve been adding resources as quickly as we can. We’ve done a bit more with psychiatric care, but the recruitment and retention of those professionals is a struggle.”
Moe said the topic came up in his travels during his recent campaigning in the North, and mentioned the province’s 10-year mental health and addictions plan.
“We need to have a conversation about how we’re moving on that plan,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say we have to have a conversation with our northern communities, as there are some logistical challenges to any plan that we enact.”
Roy said after hearing these responses, he’s feeling a bit more optimistic.
“I was glad Premier Moe actually took the time to respond to it,” he said. “We all have to work together, a strategy is needed, but also we need action. I think it’s the political will that will move things forward.”
He said his ultimate vision is to see a number of centres built across the North and said the programs would be stronger if they were specific to each region.
“So, do we use the land to heal? Do we use our cultural and traditional practices? I think all that has to be incorporated and all-encompassing,” Roy said. “I think it’s important and everyone has a role to play here. There’s lots of work to be done.”
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