As we began the spring sitting of the legislature this week I raised a topic I have been hearing a great deal about: mental health services.
Way back in 2011 the Premier made a commitment to spend some new federal money on designing “a mental health plan.” In 2012 a former Yukon Party Health minister told a local radio station the government was planning a mental health strategy. In 2014 the former Minister told Yukoners. “We’re working on a mental health strategy and when it’s available I will be only too happy to present it to this Legislature.” As the clock struck 2015 Yukoner’s got a new Minister of Health but still await a mental health strategy. We are one of only two jurisdictions in Canada without a strategy in place and it shows where mental health is on this government’s priority list.
In 2013 the government released a needs assessment for the newly built hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson. The report said “That the implementation of a territorial mental health prevention and treatment strategy be a priority that includes local support workers who maintain contact with those in need.” A full 18 months after receiving that report the recommendation has not been acted on.
Just over a year ago the government released a report called A Clinical Services Plan for Yukon. One of the key findings of the report was quite blunt. “Mental health services are in a significant deficit outside of Whitehorse.”
The report went on to warn: “Not addressing mental health services in Yukon risks failure for a clinical services plan. Central to a clinical services plan of value to the residents of Yukon Territory is the expanded resourcing of ADS and mental health services, especially in the communities. There is no greater need.”
Finally the report said: “No provider or service interview conducted during the study was silent on the enormity of the problem with, and impact of, the management and challenges of mental health services in Yukon Territory. The full spectrum of mental health issues is prevalent and generates a huge burden on available resources and family members.” “Not a single interview during this study was silent on the critical need for expanded and re-tooled mental health services to be central in service planning.”
There has been no response from the government in the year since it received this $200,000 report on how it plans to address this lack of mental health services in rural Yukon.
The overwhelming message from the government’s own reports is that things need to change. Unfortunately the new Minister of Health stood in the house this week and continued to defend the status quo. ‘We are doing a good job’ he says and refuses to acknowledge that more needs to be done.
When will a mental health strategy be in place and how does the government plan to address the shortcomings its own reports have identified?
Leader, Yukon Liberal Party
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