Yukon government breezes past deadline for mental health plan

Three months after it released its much-awaited mental health strategy, the Yukon government has already missed the first deadline set up by the strategy.

Three months after it released its much-awaited mental health strategy, the Yukon government has already missed the first deadline set up by the strategy.

An action plan by working groups was supposed to be developed by July.

Now the Department of Health and Social Services confirmed the action plan will only be ready in November.

“In the same way we didn’t want to rush the actual strategy, we don’t want to rush the development of the work plan either,” department spokesperson Patricia Living said.

“We have also committed to meeting with communities to share the work with them and get their input prior to finalizing a document. And to be honest, summer is not the best time of year to do that.”

On Tuesday the government unveiled a new centre to help youth with issues ranging from mental health to employment and housing.

It billed it as a one-stop shop to help youth navigate government programs.

But for the NDP’s health critic, it doesn’t fundamentally solve the issues people in the territory face when accessing services.

“It doesn’t eliminate the wait times, it doesn’t improve the service for the youth,” Jan Stick said.

She pointed out many people who require mental health services won’t show up to such an office.

“Do they have people going looking for youth instead of waiting?” she asked.

On Thursday the NDP held a “day of action,” which was essentially NDP candidates going door to door campaigning on the issue.

“It was an opportunity for us to go out with a message that the Yukon NDP believes there is more to be done to provide timely services in the Yukon,” Stick said.

“It was kind of a campaign, but it was very specific and talking about mental health.”

During her door-to-door visits, Stick was surprised by how much youth mental wellness came up in conversations.

“We used to think about mental health (only) for adults,” she said.

There’s an increased awareness that dealing proactively with mental health issues affecting youth is crucial, she said.

The issue in the territory is that services for mental health are treated in a very different way than regular health services, Stick said.

“If you have a broken arm, they don’t tell you to come back next week,” she said.

Back in April, Health and Social Services Minister Mike Nixon said waiting times to see a counsellor ranged from nine to 12 months, though special cases, like pregnant women, can take priority.

Today Living told the News that for one-on-one services the waiting time was “upwards” of six to eight months.

“However, again, it is important to note that supports are available during the waiting period,” she said, with triage done to make sure urgent cases are prioritized.

The NDP’s pledge is to cut waiting times and increase resources — mostly by offering outreach workers.

But like the Yukon government, they don’t have a set goal for either pledge.

A community plan has to done first, Stick said, with measurable goals.

“Communities know what they need, they have already done the work,” she said. “I just know that what we’ve got isn’t working and it hasn’t been working for a long time.”

Stick has been very critical of the mental health strategy since it was released in May.

“I’ve talked to people, NGOs that have to go to these meetings,” she said, referring to working groups the strategy set up.

“We’re taking their resources and time away by making them go.”

The document has some helpful analysis, but for the most part lacks details, she said.

“The government came up with a mental health strategy that doesn’t tell us how they’re going to achieve anything except more meetings,” she said.

“How is that going to help?” she asked.

For now there are only two psychiatric nurses available for all Yukon communities, Stick said.

Living confirmed that is the case, but only because a third position is vacant and a potential candidate decided not to take the position.

Living said the department is exploring other ways to support the program, with the possibility of adding a mental health clinician.

Not everybody needs to a see a psychiatric nurse, she added, but rather, some may only need basic counselling and support.

The department also funds groups like Many Rivers Counselling to offer services in the communities.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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