New phone program will help N.W.T. parents, kids with mental health

Northern families dealing with anxiety, child behavioural difficulties and other challenges got good news on Wednesday — soon, they may be able to get specialized, weeks-long, coaching over the phone. 

Bell Let's Talk, Northwestel, and the government of the Northwest Territories announced half a million dollars in funding for mental health care, to be spread over five years.

Bell is contributing $30,000 a year, Northwestel is providing $20,000 a year, and the N.W.T.'s Department of Health and Social Services is providing $50,000 a year. 

The money will go to a Halifax-based organization called the Strongest Families Institute. According to the charity's website, it provides phone coaching programs for specific mental health issues.

Strongest Families' approach involves weekly 45-minute telephone calls for 12 weeks or more. The client receives a handbook on various skills they can use to combat their mental health issue, and also gets videos that demonstrate how the skills are used. After watching the videos they walk through the skills with their telephone coach.

Barriers are completely removed ... stigma is virtually eliminated. - Patricia Lingley-Pottie

"We problem solve around their particular situation and challenges and match those skills to their problems, and then we do role-playing exercises over the phone," said Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie, co-founder of Strongest Families. "It's impactful ... the outcome success rate that we have is just so strong."

About 90 per cent of clients that get help from Strongest Families report that the mental illness they got treatment for was resolved or significantly improved when they finished, Lingley-Pottie said. 

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The programs were designed through a six-year research program based out of the IWK Health Centre, a children's hospital in Halifax.

"The benefit to the folks in Northwest Territories and in many remote and rural regions is the timely access to get free services when and where they need it, right? In the comfort and privacy of their own home," said Lingley-Pottie.

"Barriers are completely removed ... stigma is virtually eliminated."

Strongest Families Institute currently operates in nine provinces across Canada, as well as in Finland.