Julie Green: Strengthening Mental Wellness and Addiction Recovery

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — March 10, 2022

Check against delivery


Mr. Speaker, mental health and addictions continues to be a serious issue in the NWT, which is why this government has committed to increasing the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based, mental health and addictions programs, including aftercare. I rise today to update Members on the work to meet this mandate commitment.

Mr. Speaker, we adopted the Stepped Care 2.0 approach to mental health supports to ensure individuals and families have access to the right level of care when and where they need it. This approach provides both modern and traditional supports, like smart-phone applications, to offer residents options to choose from, regardless of where they live. The goal of this recovery-oriented approach is to empower residents, offer more choice, and reduce gaps in service. We want to be responsive to the needs of clients entering the system.

With the implementation of Stepped Care 2.0, we have improved access to community-based counseling by reducing wait times and adding same day services.  Prior to this change, the median wait time for a counseling appointment in the NWT was 19 days.  Mr. Speaker, with this shift to a Stepped Care approach, the median wait time is now just four days. 

Since 2020, we have increased the availability of e-health options. The Strongest Families Institute supports individuals and families who are experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression, and behavioral challenges. BreathingRoom is an online program for youth that offers new perspectives and practical strategies to manage stress, depression, anxiety, and strengthen their coping skills. The Wagon app is a virtual addictions aftercare program that offers an abstinence-based approach to sobriety.  It enables clients to develop a personalized plan for recovery and maintenance after they complete addictions treatment. It offers residents weekly two-hour virtual group therapy sessions with registered clinicians to build on the skills developed during treatment.

Mr. Speaker, offering effective and culturally safe programs and services is a priority for this government and for the health and social services system. Since 2020, we have enhanced the On the Land Healing Fund by increasing funding specifically for mobile addictions treatment aftercare. We have also added three new funds that support Indigenous governments and community organizations to deliver mental wellness and addictions recovery programming. The Community Suicide Prevention Fund supports these organizations to develop and deliver culturally safe programs by increasing community wellness and reducing stigma. The Addictions Recovery Peer Support Fund helps these organizations provide their own peer support programs such as AA or Wellbriety.  The Addictions Recovery and Aftercare Fund funds the establishment of local community-based counsellors to support individuals working towards recovery and to provide addictions aftercare programming.

Mr. Speaker, we are also taking steps to create a territorial model for medical detox and managed alcohol, as well as establishing transitional housing for people returning from addictions treatment. The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority has established a working group to lead the development on the medical detox model which will incorporate both inpatient and in-community offerings. Lessons learned through the distribution of alcohol during the pandemic have been used to inform the development of standards to serve as the foundation of a Managed Alcohol Program in the NWT in the future.

An expression of interest for transitional housing program was issued in December 2021. Four community organizations and Indigenous governments applied.  Staff are working with these groups as they develop specific program models.

Mr. Speaker, to ensure that we are integrating cultural sensitivity in the delivery of services, we have also increased support and training opportunities for front line staff in the community counselling program. Staff are receiving training in cultural safety, addictions recovery, and key components of Stepped Care 2.0.

Mr. Speaker, while I recognize that there is still a great deal of work to do, I also firmly believe that we have made and will continue to make progress. These initiatives will make a meaningful difference in the lives of NWT residents, and that is what this government strives to do every day.  

Finally, Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for NWT residents. The public health restrictions have affected our ability to gather, to participate in the activities that bring us joy, and to travel and visit with loved ones, to the detriment of our mental wellness. The department has been tracking social indicators throughout the pandemic, and while the total number of people accessing services has not increased, the reasons why they are accessing services have changed.  Lately, we are seeing that these reasons are more frequently related to anxiety, stress, and substance use.

Even as the public health emergency and associated orders come to an end, Health and Social Services recognizes the effects of the pandemic will not be short-lived. People are going to need support to recover from what has been a very difficult time. The health and social services system will continue to monitor trends, shift service delivery as required and actively promote our programs and services so NWT residents understand how and where they can get the support they need. 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.