Northerners accustomed to long, cold winters with short days can attest that mental health challenges can affect everyone from all walks of life.

The Yellowknife and NWT governments on Wednesday pledged to support territorial residents facing mental health issues on the occasion of Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty spoke at city hall along with Caroline Wawzonek, minister of Finance and Justice with the NWT, and Deanna Cornfield, Northwestel Contact Centre Manager about the importance of supporting people trying to stay mentally healthy.

Caroline Wawzonek, left, minister of Finance and Justice with the NWT, Deanna Cornfield, Northwestel Contact Centre Manager and Rebecca Alty, mayor of Yellowknife speak in the lobby of city hall on Wednesday for the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day in support of mental health. Blair McBride/NNSL photos

Alty explained to her audience in the city hall lobby that ensuring a high quality of life is a key goal of her council.

“In pursuit of this goal we’ve actively taken steps to address pressing social issues in our community that are often closely related to mental illness,” she said.

She pointed to the city’s funding of initiatives that target safety and wellness including the Yellowknife Street Outreach and homelessness employment program.

“The City of Yellowknife also strives to support our employees’ mental health through our employee assistance and return to work programs, extended health benefits and numerous support options.”

Wawzonek told the crowd about her own struggle with postpartum depression after her eldest child was born.

“It was likely related to insomnia and it was much easier for me to talk about insomnia, which was a physical ailment than it was for me to face the fact that I had a mental illness as well,” she said.

“My spouse and friends were supportive but it was clear that they also didn’t know how to talk to me about it. After getting support I now talk very openly about the experience, how it felt and I’ve discovered many others who are willing and eager to share their experiences.

“The power of something like Bell Let’s Talk to provide space and opportunity for these conversations is important to me and important to the government of the NWT to support as well.”

Northwestel employees, City of Yellowknife and Stanton Territorial Hospital staff and GNWT personnel pose in front of city hall after the Let’s Talk flag was raised.

The minister also announced a $500,000 investment over five years in mental health support programming through the non-profit Strongest Families Institute.

The GNWT will provide $250,000 and Bell and Northwestel the other $250,000.

Government initiatives such as community counselling, the NWT help line, on the land healing and distance and e-mental health programs would continue to be offered as well, Wawzonek said.

“We have tools available for GNWT employees as well and I want to take this opportunity on this day to encourage GNWT employees to look at our employee and family assistance programs. To learn more about mental health first aid, to learn more about the workshops that are available to them and to check out the LifeSpeak platform which is just some of the mental wellness supports we’re proud to offer as an employer,” she said.

Cornfield said that as a subsidiary of Bell, Northwestel is committed to building a positive working environment that is supportive of people dealing with mental health issues.

“Together we can make real strides in improving access to care, strong world-class research, leading by example in the workplace and ending the stigma around mental illness. Bell Let’s Talk is changing the landscape of mental health in Canada.”

The speeches in the lobby were followed by a flag-raising ceremony outside city hall.

Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health initiative began in September of 2010 and focuses on combating stigma, supporting care and access, research and workplace leadership.

Since the campaign started the telecom company has partnered with more than 1,000 organizations across Canada to provide mental health services.

Bell said it would donate $0.05 for every time a user interacted with the Let’s Talk campaign online, on social media or each time a Bell mobility customer sent a text, according to its website.

There were more than 111 million interactions as of press time.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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