Yukon government unveils mental health strategy

Yukon's long-anticipated mental wellness strategy has been released, eliciting qualified optimism.

Yukon’s long-anticipated mental wellness strategy has been released, eliciting qualified optimism.

Health and Social Services Minister Mike Nixon spoke alongside Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie, Kwanlin Dun Chief Doris Bill and the volunteer-based Mental Health Association Yukon to announce the 62-page strategy at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on Thursday.

The room was full of community mental health care providers and leaders, in addition to Whitehorse RCMP Inspector Archie Thompson and corrections superintendent Jayme Curtis.

The 10-year strategy titled “Forward Together” provides over-arching direction for the various mental health services across the territory.

It outlines key priorities and sets the stage for ongoing collaboration to improve the situation for the 7,500 Yukoners estimated to suffer from mental health or substance abuse each year.

“We recognize it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter,” Nixon said.

“I think we can all agree the strategy has been a long time coming.”

The Yukon is one of the last jurisdictions to create a mental-health strategy, despite many calls for more resources and coordinated actions to address urgent needs.

The first two years of the strategy will focus on children, families and youth. Other key focus areas include building community capacity and improving access for remote communities.

When asked how the government plans to measure progress in the coming years, Nixon replied: “We will be appointing people to oversee and assess outcomes.”

The report outlines the creation of cross-departmental committees and working groups. This will likely be on a volunteer basis, Nixon said.

Grand Chief Massie told the News the new strategy marks a continuation of existing efforts.

“At the Council of Yukon First Nations we’ve been working quite diligently on this for the last six years.”

But, she said, “It’s the first time all organizations have gone through the formal steps of collaborating.”

The Grand Chief said she looks forward to continuing to work on a government-to-government basis, cautioning: “The proof will be in the implementation of the strategy.”

“We know this ten-year strategy will not and cannot immediately address all the gaps in the mental wellness system,” Nixon acknowledged in his speech.

Described as a “living document,” the strategy is meant to evolve over time.

Both indigenous leaders noted the importance incorporating Truth and Reconciliation Report calls to action in the wellness strategy.

“The historical trauma of the Indian Residential School system has had ongoing inter-generational effects on the psychological wellbeing of our people and our communities,” Bill said, highlighting substance abuse, addiction, suicide and violence as specific challenges.

Nixon cited $1 million dedicated in this fiscal year towards the mental health strategy initiatives. He acknowledged that may not be enough to address some of the needs in rural and remote communities.

“We all recognize the resources this will take,” he said. “It is important to recognize we can’t always be all things to all people.”

Nixon also pointed to contracts being expanded, such as Many Rivers Counselling. The non-profit assumed responsibility for programming previously offered by the drop-in centre, Second Opinion Society, in late November of last year.

But critics remain concerned about how increased coordination alone can address concurrent mental-health conditions, FASD, addiction, and sexualized violence that shake territorial communities.

“There are never enough resources,” Massie told the News.

Opposition Health Critic Jan Stick said she appreciated the acknowledgment of shortcomings but had hoped to see clear, measurable goals.

“For example, we know that right now outpatient counselling wait times are around 9-12 months,” she said. “A clear goal in one year would be to reduce wait times by half.”

Instead, said Stick, the report lacks tangible objectives. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

“My disappointment and concern is that we see a whole lot more committees coming up to address these things, which is just further delay.”

Stick said the volunteer-based strategy committees also concern her. “These organizations are already operating on a shoestring.”

“It’s fine if you want government workers to go to meetings, but to add this onto the NGO workload without more money to hire someone to be on those committees, then it becomes a burden.”

Contact Lauren Kaljur at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read