Crystal Schick/Yukon News file Jeanie Dendys, minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, on Nov. 27, 2017. Dendys said May 16 that priorities for the LGBTQ2S+ will be determined through a survey that was published this week.

Not enough is being done to support the mental health needs of LGBTQ2S+ people: report

Advocacy organization Qmunity has made 70 recommendations to the Yukon government

Inadequate mental health care was “repeatedly criticized” when engaging the public over LGTBQ2S+ issues, with several participants calling on the Yukon government to implement a suicide prevention strategy, according to a report.

The Yukon is “one of the last jurisdictions to not have one in place,” says the report conducted by Qmunity, a Vancouver-based LGBTQ advocacy organization tasked with leading the public engagement.

There were 103 respondents in total from Whitehorse, Dawson City, Watson Lake and Marsh Lake, the report says.

During one of 12 focus groups, several participants say they have exaggerated their struggles with mental health in an effort to access services, “even going so far as to embellish a crisis in order to receive adequate services and be plugged in to the system for more sustainable support.”

“Ultimately, this demonstrates a system that is underprepared and under-resourced to respond appropriately to the needs of communities, and a lack of commitment to patient-centred approaches to addressing mental health needs,” the report says.

The Yukon government has posted a new public survey that’s available for one month. It’s to be followed by an action plan to bolster inclusion in legislation, policies and services, among other things, according to a “What We Heard” document that was released concurrently on May 16.

Jeanie Dendys, minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, said that her department is determining what the highest priorities are. The survey, she said, will help do this.

“I’m not going to predetermine what the community will prioritize,” she said, noting, however, that she expects mental health issues to be of top concern.

“Again, what we’ve committed to is not doing anything for the LGBTQ2S+ community without them.”

Qmunity makes 70 recommendations that span options like cultural competency training for health-care workers, funding a health-care navigator, all genders washrooms and sexual health.

When it comes to mental health, it’s recommended that the Yukon government create not only a crisis line but decrease wait times to see counsellors and psychologists, increase access in rural areas and improve mental health services at hospitals.

A petition tabled in the legislative assembly on April 9 calls on the Yukon government to ban conversion therapy. Started by students from two Whitehorse schools, it had 401 signatures at last count.

Qmunity carries this forward, also urging the government to ban the practice, along with banning sending minors out of the territory in order to undergo the practice there.

Conversion therapy, the report says, is “a dangerous and oppressive pseudoscientific practice …” that claims to be able to turn someone straight.

“Scientific research does not support the efficacy of the therapy, and negative and dangerous outcomes often result, including: distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships and sexual dysfunction,” it says.

Dendys has said on the floor of the legislative assembly that the Yukon government doesn’t support conversion therapy. She reiterated this point to the News.

“We’re looking at it alongside other areas,” she said, adding that it is included in the survey.

There was “substantial feedback” when it comes to the Yukon government as an employer, with participants suggesting working for the government has been “harmful” to the community.

“Several YG staff articulated that they feared retribution if they spoke up and out about changes in policy or processes to better support LGBTQ2S+ Yukoners,” the report says. “YG as an employer must put more trust in the process of relationship building, most especially with communities historically under-served or discriminated against by government services, policies and staff.”

Another issue “almost universally” supported was building a resource centre in Whitehorse, one independent from the government but still funded by it. Programming could include peer-led support groups, training services and “advocacy, representation and committee-based work at all levels of government, playfully dubbed an Ombudsqueer,” the report says.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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