Yukon needs a mental health plan

Imagine if only 25 per cent of youth and children diagnosed with cancer received treatment.

Imagine if only 25 per cent of youth and children diagnosed with cancer received treatment.

Would that be appropriate?

This was a question posed by BC Canadian Mental Health Association CEO Bev Gutrary during her visit to the Yukon last week.

In BC, the association found that only 25 per cent of children diagnosed with a mental illness actually received services.

But that could soon change.

Late last year, the BC government released a comprehensive 10-year plan to address mental health and substance use.

Sue Edelman would like to see the Yukon draft a similar plan.

The territory doesn’t know how many of its mentally ill citizens go untreated.

It doesn’t do adequate prevention work, or provide enough education or services for those identified with such illness, said Edelman, co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s Mental Health Committee.

“We expect our RCMP, hospitals and jails to do our mental health services for us,” she said. “And those are done in crisis, when they’re least effective. The costs of those services go up and up each year. We have limited resources here, so we want to make good use of them.”

The committee is considering creating a division of the Canadian Mental Health Association for the Yukon, or perhaps joining BC’s.

The Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a mental health association.

“You need to look at mental health from all angles – it’s not just poverty,” said Edelman.

“There isn’t anybody who hasn’t been involved with somebody with mental illness at some point in their life – whether it’s a family or a friend or someone at work.”

Mental health issues are dealt with by the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Social Services, not to mention First Nations and various nongovernmental organizations.

Yet, there’s still a huge need that’s not being met.

“Often times it’s because of a lack of co-ordination between services,” said Edelman.

“It’s because there’s no plan. None.”

The group has no interest in delivering additional mental health services in the territory, as the mental health association does in other jurisdictions.

Instead, it would act as a broker between government, NGOs or community groups.

The group would also work to educate the community about the pervasiveness of mental health problems.

“I think that we have some outdated stereotypes that we need to get rid of,” said Edelman.

“And the treatment options are not well understood.”

And, like BC, they would try to merge services for mental health and addictions, she said.

“Addictions and mental health are inextricably joined.”

The group looks forward to the upcoming territorial election, hoping mental health and addictions services will become an issue for voters.

“Ultimately we need a government that will commit to a long-term comprehensive plan, similar to the one in British Columbia.

“We’re never going to get anywhere if we just keep running around doing bits and pieces.”

If you’d like to be involved, contact information can be found at the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s website.

The Mental Health Committee will be meeting again on Wednesday, May 25 at noon at the Whitehorse Public Library, in meeting room two.

This 90-minute meeting will help plan and structure a committee workshop, scheduled for Friday, June 10.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com