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Reports, strategies not enough for addictions, mental health issues

The Brandon Sun - 10/19/2020

“In a world so full of people, how can I feel so alone?”

I wrote this in 2013 during a time in which I was struggling with a great loss in my life, alcohol abuse and regular drug use. I had lost a very close friend to cancer and I needed help and couldn’t find it — there was no easy access to regular mental health professionals — psychologists and psychotherapists only travel to the North once a month. There was also no access to treatment facilities — the one treatment centre in the territory closed that same year — or anyone I felt that I could talk to about what or how I was feeling.

So I left everything, went to the ocean to recover and though I lost another dear friend to cancer in those three months and two more friends to suicide I managed to stop abusing drugs and alcohol and work on my mental health.

I’m no stranger to thinking about ending my time here or to the loss attached to suicide. I’ve lost a brother to it, more friends than I care to count and a lover — suicide has touched just about every aspect of my life.

But we need to talk. It needs to be out in the open. I’m better now, mentally, but I have to work at it every day and I do take advantage of talking with wellness counsellors as often as possible.

However, part of that work means not being ashamed to share my experience in the hope that it changes at least one person’s mind about ending their life. That this world is worth staying in.

But that can be a hard picture to imagine for many youth and adults who live in similar situations in remote communities that don’t have access to addictions, trauma or mental health care workers.

Suicide rates in Manitoba have an eerie resemblance to those in the Northwest Territories and the lack of addictions and mental health care availability in remote communities parallels the territory as well.

The Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth released a report in May and in that report it stated that suicide is the leading cause of deaths in the province for youth aged 10 to 17 — double that of the national average.

It also says that two years after the release of the provincial government’s Virgo Report, little has been done to improve public mental health and addictions services.

Let’s be honest; it shouldn’t take more reports, more strategies, more frameworks, to understand this issue — enough of those have been done to kill an entire forest.

Our children and our families are suffering, our communities are suffering, our fellow human beings are suffering and not enough is being done to address these issues.

The suicide walk at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is just one example of communities that are dealing with a dire situation. Sioux Valley declared a state of emergency after the community was left reeling from four deaths by suicide — three within a week.

And yes, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the people in remote communities, or on the streets of your community and say it isn’t your problem. That is, until it happens to you and suddenly when you need that support the most and it isn’t there.

We need the government to deal with this crisis, because reports and strategies just aren’t measuring up anymore.

But, that will take us, the people who live with the ripples of loss, to fight harder than ever to get those addictions and mental health workers in place so the real work can begin and we start to see those suicide death rates drop or disappear completely.

I’ve said this many times over the past six months of this pandemic — we’ve seen how fast the federal, provincial and territorial governments can act when it’s urgent.

It’s time to set our priorities straight and put pressure to act now to get those recommendations from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth report addressed with the urgency it calls for.

All Manitobans, especially our children and the marginalized deserve to have access to addictions and mental health professionals and long-term treatments in the communities where they live.