The NWT’s health and social services minister said she was “not familiar” with her department’s action plan on child and youth mental health.

Julie Green made the comment in response to questions from Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby at a sitting of the Legislative Assembly on Feb. 23.

Nokleby used her opening remarks to address the state of mental health services in the Northwest Territories, especially as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She referenced a string of three recent suicide attempts in Fort Smith, one of which was successful.

“How can we continue to deny that we are in a mental health crisis when any young person sees suicide as their only option?” she asked.

“We have no residential trauma program, no residential treatment program for youth, no child and adolescent unit at Stanton, and the solution seems to be to ship vulnerable people off to another part of the country, causing further trauma.”

During question period, Nokleby asked Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green about the progress of the Department of Health and Social Services Child and Youth Mental Wellness Action Plan, which covers the years from 2017 to 2022.

“I’m not familiar with this report, so I’ll have to come back with that information,” said Green

Nokleby called the response “concerning.”

Green did highlight some of the initiatives the department is undertaking to address mental health, including the community counselling program and the child and youth care counselling program.

The Northwest Territories had the second-highest rate of suicide of any jurisdiction in Canada in 2015, the last year for which Statistics Canada data is available for the territory. At 21 suicides per 100,000 residents, the NWT was surpassed only by Nunavut, which had more than 76 suicides per 100,000 residents.

The situation both nationwide and in other provinces may provide some indication of the situation facing the NWT: About one in five children and youth in Ontario struggle with mental illness, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. In addition, a Nanos poll commissioned by CTV News and released in January found that one third of respondents aged 18 to 34 had sought mental health support during the pandemic.

Green could not immediately provide statistics on the prevalence of mental illness among young people in the territory.

In response to a question from Nokleby, Green would not declare the situation in the territory a “mental health crisis.” However, she acknowledged the mental health toll of the pandemic, saying “It has produced a lot of depression, anxiety, loneliness, especially for people who live on their own like Elders.”

However, she said, “I feel confident that we’re not facing anything we can’t deal with.”

The territory has allocated some new funds to address the mental toll of the pandemic: In its 2022-23 budget, which was unveiled on Feb. 22, the territory allocated an additional $1.7 million for mental health and addictions services, as well as as $2.9 million from the Northern Wellness Agreement and $1.4 million for Indigenous wellness services.

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