Government still working on mental health strategy

The Yukon legislative assembly voted unanimously this week to urge the government to fulfill its promise to deliver a mental health strategy. Liberal Leader Sandy Silver introduced the motion.

The Yukon legislative assembly voted unanimously this week to urge the government to fulfill its promise to deliver a mental health strategy.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver introduced the motion.

He said in recent months he has heard from many rural mental health service providers as well as families dealing with the system.

“It was basically the same message from everybody: It’s a mess. There’s a huge divide between rural health and urban health,” Silver said in an interview Thursday.

There is very little co-ordination between communities, and nurses are being given different instructions depending on which community they’re in, he said.

Nurses are also being told not to pet dogs or interact with people in the streets – just to do their job and move on, said Silver.

“No one’s going to open up to you if you’re not part of the community.”

The problem is not that Yukon doesn’t have good services and good staff, but that there is not enough of an overall plan to guide the work that’s being done, he said.

“There’s just such a need for co-ordination of services.”

For someone in alcohol and drug treatment, for example, there’s no system in place to make sure someone checks up on them after the end of the program, he said.

All three parties promised a mental health strategy during the 2011 campaign. The Yukon is one of two jurisdictions in the country without one.

Silver said he wasn’t sure which way the government would vote, even after Health Minister Mike Nixon spoke to the motion for more than an hour.

His confusion is understandable.

While Nixon spoke at great length to the government’s various programs and initiatives related to mental health, he barely mentioned a mental health strategy at all.

“As this motion speaks to … ‘that this house urges the government of Yukon to follow through on its commitment to develop a mental health strategy,’ that is exactly what this government is doing,” Nixon said at the conclusion of his speech.

These words in the context of Nixon’s earlier comments could leave the impression that the government feels its suite of programs and services related to mental health equate to a strategy, and the implementation of that strategy is already underway.

But Nixon clarified in an interview Friday morning that the government intends to follow through on its promise to produce a mental health strategy document.

“This is something that the government is very committed to.”

That strategy is in the early draft stages, he said.

While he hopes that it will be finalized before the next election, he won’t be pushing officials to rush the work, said Nixon.

The government has stepped up its game over the past few years in terms of the delivery of mental health services, he said, thanking those who do that work here in the territory.

Silver said he was happy to see the motion pass unamended, but he’s not celebrating yet.

“When they all got up and started saying ‘agreed,’ I was actually quite taken aback,” he said.

“I will be pleased when I see a mental health strategy.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

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