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Feds boost mental health supports for NAN communities

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler says the $2.6 million funding commitment is particularly crucial given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, 2017
NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said support for mental health is particularly crucial given the COVID-19 pandemic.

OTTAWA – A federal funding commitment is set to expand mental health and substance use support services for Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) communities. The government announced more than $2.6 million in funding for the initiatives on Friday.

The money will allow two First Nations health providers to expand and simplify access to a variety of services for the 49 NAN communities in northern Ontario, which have a total population of around 45,000 people.

Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) eHealth will receive nearly $1.7 million, with just short of $1 million going to the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority.

While offering few concrete details, the government said in a release the funding will allow the groups to “offer access to 24/7 culturally appropriate crisis supports, triage and live service navigation, improved usage of tele-mental health supports, and help eliminate duplication in existing mental health and problematic substance use services.”

It additionally promised the program’s approach would be “grounded in community leadership and First Nations approaches to Mental Health services”

While demand for mental health supports was already growing before COVID-19, NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the support is especially crucial given the pandemic.

“Our First Nations are taking extraordinary measures to keep safe, and many community members are experiencing heightened feelings of isolation and uncertainty, which has understandably resulted in increased levels of anxiety and depression,” he said in a release. “Without proper supports, people in these circumstances often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, and we need to ensure they receive the support they require.”