I feel for Health and Social Services Minister Diane Thom. It sounds as though some of the difficulties the MLA experienced a few weeks ago were partly the result of issues at home. It must be incredibly difficult to have a stressful portfolio during the pandemic and experience challenges in your personal life, too.
Having a number of friends working in the mental health field, I have heard horror stories (without names or other identifications) about real life situations in homes during the lockdown. Even the skeletal information I have will not be given here to protect the identity of the victims and/or their families. But it is safe to say that some of the crises will result in lasting or even lifelong trauma. If we do not have adequate mental health services, physical health and economic health will suffer. It will end up costing us more in the end.
Further, another friend in the medicine field told me justices of the peace have been working overtime to deal with emergency protection orders, restraining orders and child welfare issues because situations at home have turned violent especially when alcohol or drugs are involved in lockdown conditions.
Now, while there are no active Covid-19 cases and as we move cautiously into reopening, and faced with another two-week public health emergency order, it is a good time for the GNWT to examine the mental health services available to Northerners. This jurisdiction did the same as many and focused on health issues. While there has been some improvement, we are learning they are not enough.
Yes, we have kept the Covid-19 numbers down, but mental health statistics are spiraling.
At the start of the pandemic, I watched a YouTube video by Canada’s own Dr. Gabor Mate, respected worldwide in mental health and addictions circles, who worked on Vancouver’s east side for many years. In it, he said that at some point, the cost of the mental health issues would become more threatening than the virus. I believe we are at that point now and have been for some time.
As it currently stands, counsellors working with either the GNWT or the federal government are only able to provide phone counselling. This means clients must have access to phones and the privacy to talk while being locked in the house possibly with their users or abusers.
After hour calls go to crisis centres in Ontario. In an interview with one crisis line worker there, she said that while they undergo many hours of training, volunteers in Ontario know little about the North and its geographic challenges. They have resource lists they can refer to and emergency numbers to call for assistance up here. However, it can take responders hours or even days before they are able to reach the callers and provide the intervention they need. Though they do their best to understand, it is difficult for crisis workers in the south to understand how difficult it can be to travel here and get a handle on the cultural differences which may require unique approaches.
We know that there have been drug overdoses during the pandemic and my friend I have in counselling noted that a high number of patients were coming in suicidal … pushed to the edge by long periods of restricted movement. If we had local 24-hour crisis teams, perhaps some of these situations could have been dealt with before people reach the limit. If we were able to move GNWT workers quickly onto PROTECT NWT phone lines, couldn’t we allocate some to crisis lines? Further, I know that many Northerners would volunteer their time to do that.
We have some breathing space now and hopefully it will continue until COVID numbers are almost eliminated or a vaccine is found. But while we have this break, maybe the GNWT could organize a locally run crisis line to help our southern counterparts. Northerners are tough and resilient – but everyone needs support now and then. And as much as that, we like to help.
Now, while we can breathe a little easier, let’s see what else we can put in place to ease this other health crisis.