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Prime Minister Announcement on Mental Health Falls Short on Helping Those Most At Risk in Canada: First Nations

OTTAWA, Aug. 31 – Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said today’s announcement by the Prime Minister is not an adequate response to First Nations’ calls for a comprehensive mental wellness program.

“Investment in a Canadian Mental Health Commission is good for Canadians who have some access to mental health services, but First Nations communities are currently not supported to deliver comprehensive prevention and healing services,” said National Chief Phil Fontaine, “Including a First Nations Commissioner and an Aboriginal Advisory Committee are positive steps forward but without authority, money and direct accountability to First Nations, it is doubtful any meaningful change can occur.” The new Canadian Mental Health Commission is based on recommendations of the May 2006 Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Information and Technology’s report, Out of the Shadows at Last – Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada. The last federal budget set aside $10-million over two years to establish a Canadian Mental Health Commission and pledged further annual funding of $15 million starting in 2009-10.

“We testified twice before the Senate Committee and included a range of recommendations specific to investing in community-based mental health workers, a holistic approach to programs and services, and immediate resources for healing and addictions impacting our children and youth like crystal meth,” emphasizes National Chief Fontaine, “None of these recommendations will be actioned by this Commission.

Direct accountability of the Commission to First Nations governments is also essential for it to make a difference in our communities because health research has shown a direct link between mental wellness and self-determination of First Nations peoples. Without First Nations having a sense of ownership and control over a comprehensive, mental wellness program, any new investment or initiative would be working against itself.”

National Chief Phil Fontaine added that some mental health experts have diagnosed First Nations individuals with low grade levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of living in poverty and despair. The First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey 2002/03 found that 31% of First Nations adults have attempted suicide in their lives. More than 1 in 4 First Nations youths reported sad, blue, or depressed feelings for two weeks in a row in the past year.

“We’re also seeing a lot more clients in First Nations communities who are diagnosed with FAS/FAE and mental illness. Most communities have no existing facilities and limited funding, yet, are expected to respond to the specialized need of these clients,” National Chief Phil Fontaine said.

While we have previously written to the federal Minister of Heath Tony Clement on this matter and received no response, we will continue to pursue joint initiatives that will address these concerns.

For further information: Bryan Hendry, A/Director of Communications, (613) 241-6789 ext 229, cell (613) 293-6106, [email protected]; Karyn Pugliese, Health Communications, (613) 241-6789 ext 210, cell (613) 292-1877, [email protected]; Rene Pollett, Communications Specialist, (613) 241-6789, ext. 314, cell (613) 295-2149, [email protected]