Mental health support needed in Indigenous communities in light of COVID-19

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Headlines, News

Many Indigenous people are facing mental health challenges as the third wave of the pandemic rages and another lockdown has been enforce.

One expert said because of the stay-at-home lockdown limited access to health centres is one of the contributing factors among many First Nations, Merits and Inuit people being in a mental health.

“People in need of mental health support can call but it is up to the community member to answer their phone,” said Rochelle Koostachin, Brighter Futures Coordinator at Eagle Lake Health Centre in Migisi Sahgaigian, Ontario.

Brighter Futures is a program at the Eagle Lake Centre that helps Indigenous children between the ages of seven and 12 learning about their land, roots and their mental health.

She said many Indigenous people are not in the right headspace to pick up the phone to seek help and talk to a counsellor.

Koostachin said many Indigenous communities were already struggling with mental health, addictions and suicide crises before the pandemic hit.

A 2020 study published by the Addiction Science and Clinical Practice Journal found Indigenous people have had an increase in alcohol dependence since the pandemic hit.

The report reviewed nine research projects between Jan. 1, 1989, to July 9, 2020, analyzing the prevalence of alcohol dependence among Indigenous people in Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada within a previous 12-month period.

The study reported that of the 33 per cent of Indigenous people in Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada who participated, 32.8 per cent of the males and 7.6 per cent of females reported an alcohol dependency.

Of the Canadian participants, the study found 4.1 per cent of Indigenous people are alcohol dependent and are at a higher risk of severe alcohol use disorder.

Anne Banerji, the director of Global and Indigenous Health of Temerty Faculty of Medicine in the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, said Indigenous people are marginalized and stressed more than they can decompensated.

“It a complex situation because of the chronic aspects, chronic effects of colonization, racism and systemic discrimination,” she said there is additional stresses that has many people being left resourced to cope,”

She said limited access to services and rehabilitation centres has caused many substance withdrawal in some communities being under lockdown for months.

A 2020 Statistics Canada study by Paula Arriagada, Tara Hahmann and Vivian O’Donnell found 60 per cent of the 1,400 Indigenous participants aged 15 and older participated in the study indicated their mental health has become worse since the pandemic.

The study which covered the period from April 24 to May 11, 2020, also showed 46 per cent of Indigenous women and 32 percent of Indigenous men described most of their days as being stressful and dealing with anxiety.

Banerji said more resources and support are needed than just funding. Many Indigenous people are in state of crisis.

“More support is needed but the government also needs to address the chronic issues such as housing, food, water, and safety within health care systems,” Banerji said.

Ontario announced last month it was increasing mental health supports for Indigenous peoples, families, and communities to expand and enhance community-based mental health services.

Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in the announcement it is critically important to ensure Indigenous communities can access safe and effective mental health addictions services they need.

The province allotting $176 million in the government’s mental health and addiction plan Roadmap to Wellness, a plan to help build Ontario’s mental health and addictions support systems.

Koostachin said other communities can help by checking in on those who need support. Knowing that they are supported goes a long way in change.

“Lending a helping hand and supporting them pretty much is all they ask for. she said,”

Supporting Indigenous communities and issues including mental health and addiction challenges can help make change in them and other communities.

“Advocating for basic human rights and equity, there must be standards,” Banerji said. It not just an Indigenous issue, 70 per cent of the population is saying enough is enough fix it.”

Banerji says funding is significant but real change, consistency and respecting that Indigenous people have the same rights and needs.