Diane Thom: Strongest Families Institute

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — February 12, 2020

Mr. Speaker, every year, one in five Canadians experience a mental health challenge or illness. Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience a mental illness or substance use disorder than any other age group. Research also shows that 70 percent of mental health challenges begin during childhood or adolescence. These numbers are higher in the NWT with the impacts of intergenerational trauma and the legacies of colonization and residential schools.

To help address these concerns, the Department of Health and Social Services released the Mental Wellness and Addictions Recovery Plan in June 2019 to guide changes to our mental wellness and addictions recovery system. A primary goal of the action plan is to ensure services are person and family-centered, recovery-oriented, trauma-informed, accessible, and culturally safe. We want people to experience positive and effective support at any point of entry into the system, and to remain engaged as partners in their care as they move toward healing and recovery in their lives.

As part of developing the action plan, the Department reached out to Northerners and key stakeholders. They made it clear that there was a need for more mental wellness and addictions recovery options and supports. One way to meet this need is to implement distance-based and eMental Health programs across the NWT. Launched in January 2020, Strongest Families Institute is the first of several mental health initiatives that are being implemented to complement in-person supports and options to residents. With our partners Bell Let’s Talk and Northwestel, we will invest $500,000 total over the next five years to have Strongest Families Institute provide telephone-based distance support for individuals and families experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression, and behavioural concerns.

Strongest Families Institute provides individuals and families with weekly access to trained coaches and skills-based programming to support their unique needs, experiences and goals. Because it is telephone-based, there are very few barriers. Once referred to the program, people can talk to their coach in the comfort and privacy of their own home at a time that works best for them, day or night.

Mr. Speaker, these award winning, evidence-based programs have been shown to help with child mental health issues, academic progress, bullying, family relationships, and parental stress. Strongest Families Institute has been providing these programs to all the Atlantic Provinces, Manitoba, and Finland for many years.

An important focus of the Department of Health and Social Services is to work towards building and supporting a more culturally aware and informed health system. To ensure that the Strongest Families Institute’s programming is culturally respectful, it was co-designed with partners including Indigenous advisors. All of their coaches also receive ongoing diversity training to gain knowledge and support a variety of cultural traditions. Information specific to our Territory’s northern context has also been shared to help inform Strongest Families Institute coach and staff training.

Mr. Speaker, Strongest Families Institute is one of many support options that residents can access in the NWT. We are committed to increasing the number and variety of culturally respectful and community-based mental wellness and addictions recovery options. Giving people more choices  in addition to things like the Community Counselling Program, the NWT Help Line, and on-the-land healing, is part of our commitment to building better mental wellness and addictions recovery success in the NWT.

There is no single approach that will work for everyone when it comes to addressing mental health and addictions. By providing a variety of options based on the needs of the person seeking support, we are more able to provide the right type of care, at the right time, by the right person. Going forward, we will continue to work with individuals and families who have first-hand experience with mental wellness and addictions recovery, as well as Indigenous governments, and other key stakeholders as we work to improve our system and better meet the needs of NWT residents.

In closing, I want to thank Bell Let’s Talk and Northwestel for partnering with us in supporting mental wellness in our territory. I also want to encourage individuals and families seeking support to reach out to their local Community Counselling Program for more information on the Strongest Families Institute and its potential to provide some valuable support in their lives.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.