Chase Blodgett, creater of All Genders Yukon and photographed in 2015, says it may be the first time in Canada that a provincial or territorial government has funded jurisdiction-wide, comprehensive counselling services for trans, two-spirit and non-binary people and their loved ones. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Health branch and NGOs taking over government-funded counselling services in the Yukon

The Yukon government’s Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services branch

The Yukon government has introduced a “new delivery model” for counselling services in the territory, with a branch of the Department of Health and Social Services and two NGOs to provide or facilitate mental health supports over the coming year.

The Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services (MWSU) branch along with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Yukon division (CMHA) and the All Genders Yukon Society will be providing “all communities with a wider range of high-quality, accessible, and consistent counselling services,” the Yukon government said in a press release Aug. 23.

Absent from the service providers is Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services.

The Yukon government is giving the CMHA $700,000 and All Genders $105,000 in funding over a one-year term for its services, with the possibility of an extension to a three-year term “pending evaluation,” Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) spokesperson Pat Living wrote in an Aug. 26 email.

The money set aside for All Genders is the first time in Canada that a provincial or territorial government has funded jurisdiction-wide, comprehensive counselling services for trans, two-spirit and non-binary people and their loved ones, according to president Chase Blodgett.

“Our goal is to ensure that everybody has access to the mental health services they need in a sustainable way to improve the health of our community,” Blodgett said in an interview Aug. 26, explaining that the needs of people who make up the support systems around trans people — parents or partners, for example — are “often put on the back burner.”

While All Genders has already been providing services to the community, Blodgett said counselling was provided only on a short-term temporary basis, and the majority of members were only accessing it when they were in “absolute crisis.”

With the new funding, the organization will be able to pay for ongoing, long-term therapy that members and loved ones can access as needed. The therapy doesn’t need to be explicitly linked to gender-related issues either — for example, a member could get counselling after the death of a pet or a difficult day at work.

Services also won’t be limited to people living in Whitehorse.

“Our services are going to be accessible for everybody. If you’re in Old Crow, we’ll still fund your therapy,” Blodgett said.

All Genders currently serves about 50 to 75 individuals, Blodgett said, adding that with the new funding, he expects that number to increase.

CMHA’s Yukon division is also anticipating being able to serve more people with the new funding, executive director Tiffanie Tasane said Aug. 27.

The association has been providing counselling services on an interim basis since January, helping to fill in the gap created by a staff strike and then lay-off at Many Rivers. It currently has two counsellors serving about 125 clients; its interim funding ends in September, at which point the new funding will kick in.

“We are going to be increasing our staffing significantly and that will give us the capacity to serve more clients,” Tasane said.

“It’s hard to judge what the actual need is … We are just reaching the point now where (our counsellors’) caseloads are full, so we’re excited about the timing because we can extend the service and hire additional counselling staff. I’m not sure what that will look like in terms of how many clients we’ll be able to service.”

The CMHA Yukon division provides more generalized counselling covering issues like grief and loss, depression, anxiety, relationships and parenting, Tasane said, and at this point, will only be offering services in Whitehorse.

Meanwhile, the MWSU will continue operating its hubs in Dawson City, Watson Lake, Carmacks, Haines Junction and Whitehorse, director Mary Vanstone told the News, with an expanded scope to cover services Many Rivers may have delivered before, like family and grief counselling.

Besides its Whitehorse location, Many Rivers had also operated offices in Dawson City, Watson Lake and Haines Junction.

MWSU hubs will now be the only government-funded mental health services providers in the communities. CMHA and All Genders will also be able to refer clients who “require access to psychiatry or a higher level of service” to MWSU hubs, Vanstone said.

“Complex trauma, PTSD, significant and serious persistent mental illness, schizophrenia, that sort of thing, those would be the individuals who may stream into MWSU,” she said, adding that the branch is “excited” to be working with the NGOs.

“We’re hoping that this new model will help support people to have choice in how they receive services and where,” she said.

With files from Julien Gignac

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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