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Mental health treatment facility needed for youth, agency insists

Eighty-two per cent of GN professionals involved in a review of children's mental health services say availability is not meeting needs and 72 per cent say the quality of services isn't adequate.

Sherry McNeil-Mulak, Nunavut's representative for children and youth, oversaw a new report that calls on the territorial government to establish a mental health treatment facility for youth in Nunavut. photo courtesy of the Representative for Children and Youth's Office

These are some of the findings revealed in Our Minds Matter, which was publicly released by the Representative for Children and Youth’s Office this week. One of the document's key recommendations is that the GN should establish an in-territory facility that would allow children to be admitted for mental health treatment.

"These services should incorporate family engagement and healing and be grounded in Inuit knowledge, culture, and parenting practices," the report states.

The report calls upon the Department of Health to ensure that out-of-territory mental health services for children and youth are in place when those services cannot be provided within Nunavut, and that appropriate follow-up takes place after patients return to their communities.

The Department of Health should also deliver a comprehensive training program to provide supports to children. Communities with more than one mental health worker should have one dedicated to youth, the report further recommends.

Nunavut Arctic College should offer professional education programs to enhance the territory's mental health workforce and improved mental health services are needed in schools, the document advises.

In the report, a real-life example is provided of a child in need of mental health service after becoming impulsive and violent following a traumatic incident. Four mental health professionals cycled through the boy's community over the next four months, delaying his assessment. Finally, after five months, a psychiatrist available via telephone determined the boy and his relatives needed family counselling, which they could not access within Nunavut. It took another six months to persuade the family members to participate in therapy.

"It is a story that highlights the lack of child-and-youth-specific mental health services in communities and in the territory, process confusion amongst government service providers, position vacancies, an over-reliance on a transient workforce, and a lack of trust in the system," the report reads.

The research engaged youth, mental health service providers, teachers, nurses and other civil servants. It also involved the examination of many GN documents from various departments.

"Much of what we heard during our review has been said before and some of the recommendations made in this report have been raised before. However, until children and youth are able to access the mental health services they need and — have a right to — in their own territory, we will continue to urge the GN to implement these recommendations. We will continue to stand alongside young people and advocate for change on their behalf... Young Nunavummiut have spoken. It is time we listen," concludes Sherry McNeil-Mulak, Nunavut's representative for children and youth, who authored the report's executive summary.