Access to online mental health resources and a stable internet connection is a paradox for most northern communities.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is joining together with the Government of the Northwest Territories for a two-year mental health project to reduce wait times and improve services.
Jennifer Drygeese, wellness director for the Yellowknives Dene First Nations, stresses the complications with online support, she says, “this virtual aspect may lead you to get cut off by poor internet connection. I could just imagine how bad it could be for other communities.”
The new project will offer an online portal with a diverse range of support options – including land and community- based options, Community Counselling Programs, an NWT Helpline, and facility-based addictions treatments all wrapped up into one neat online space. Residents can get access to traditional services from the Health and Social Services and NWT Health and Social Services Authority websites.
The stepped model offers a nine-step care process to assess the patient’s needs before referring a patient to the appropriate level of care. Once the patient has completed the assessment questions – Online tools, peer support, or the highest intensity option of an intervention specialist may be offered by a community wellness officer.
“Other online services will be ready once our privacy impact assessment is completed,” says Damien Healy, GNWT spokesperson.
“It’s a shame that most people have to wait for months to get connected with health-care professionals. That’s why we developed this streamline model of care to connect patients to counselors and resources easier,” says Ed Mantler, vice president of programs and priorities for MHCC.
With internet shortages and computer access limited in the Northwest Territories, Drygeese says, “if we had a better, more reliable internet connection it might work.”
“A key component of the GNWT Mental Wellness and Addictions Recovery Action Plan is to transform the NWT mental wellness and addictions recovery system,” as stated in a press release.
“Mental health is not a one size fits all approach,” says Sarah Chorostkowski director of mental wellness and addiction recovery for GNWT.
“We need options in a convenient way. There will be no appointments needed, no need to take time off work or take your children out of school to get the care you need,” says Chorostkowski.
The two-year contract with the Mental Health Commission is approx. $120,000, says Damien Healy.
The 2019- 2020 recovery plan saw over 16,000 people in community counseling programs, 220 people in addiction treatment programs, and 547 calls were made to the helpline.