Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba helps Indigenous, rural communities receive crucial mental health support

·3 min read

The Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba (CHFM) says they are continuing their work to improve mental health care for youth in remote Indigenous communities, and doing it in a way that brings that care right to communities, so those seeking support aren’t always forced to leave home.

In a recent media release, CHFM said that when the COVID-19 virus first arrived in Manitoba in the spring of 2020, the uncertainty and lockdowns that followed led to more youth in Manitoba seeking mental health services.

“Ongoing isolation and uncertainty fueled demand for child and youth mental health services in Manitoba over the past two years,” CHFM said in their release.

The foundation said it is important to get support to young people who are dealing with mental health issues as quickly as possible, but that isn’t always an option for those who live in remote communities where health care services like mental health services are often much harder to access than they are in large centres like Winnipeg.

“Getting children mental health support early is crucial to avoid long-term impact, but for those who live in Indigenous and rural communities, there was no easy way to access the critical care they needed, resulting in stress for families who extensively spend on medical transport every year,” the release states.

According to the foundation, data shows that there is a large and growing need for more and improved mental health services for Indigenous youth across this province.

“While Indigenous peoples represent 15% of Manitoba’s population, about 45% of child and adolescent patients who seek mental health care from our hospital are transported from Indigenous and rural communities,” CHFM said.

Thanks to funding through both private donations and fundraising, CHFM said they implemented an urgent Tele-Mental Health Service in 2020 to allow children and adolescents in rural and Indigenous areas an opportunity to get mental health supports at home.

The program, which now allows youth who need support to connect with health care professionals through telephone or other virtual means, recently released data from 2021, and said that data shows that the program has allowed more youth in need or in crisis to stay closer to home and receive care.

According to CHFM, by the end of December 2021, the Children’s Hospital of Manitoba had completed over 140 telehealth consults, which they say enabled “three quarters of patients to be able to stay close to family and friends in their home communities.”

“By bringing care closer to home, the project is breaking down barriers and further connecting our hospital to Indigenous and other rural communities,” CHFM said. “This new mode of delivery enhances the well-being of both patients and families, by providing mental health services without the financial and emotional strains of travel.”

Data released by the federal government early in the pandemic showed that COVID-19 and health measures and mandates including lockdowns have had negative effects on the mental health of Indigenous children, and on Indigenous people of all ages in Canada.

According to a national study from the summer of 2020, 60% of Indigenous participants indicated that their mental health had become “somewhat worse” or “much worse” since the pandemic began, while 38% of Indigenous people surveyed reported dealing with “fair or poor” mental health since the pandemic began.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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