SIOUX LOOKOUT – HEALTH – Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC), located in northwestern Ontario, serves Sioux Lookout, Hudson, Pickle Lake and the surrounding 32 First Nations communities. Acting CEO, Heather Lee, and Board Co-Chair Sol Mamakwa are part of a team of individuals working to assist with the recent and ongoing crisis related to youth suicides across the region.
“Our hearts are with the families and communities as they mourn the loss of these young lives, and with the many other families and communities who continue to be impacted both directly and indirectly by suicide across our entire region,” stated Ms. Lee.
These tragedies result in many human and material resources being sent into the community’s to manage the crisis after the fact; a well-intentioned reaction that while needed and deeply appreciated is now all too common and comes far too late in Lee’s opinion. Community members, leaders and providers are exhausted with no sign of a sustainable solution that will address the issue.
“It is time that the inequity which exists across multiple systems, including but not limited to health, is addressed in a proactive and sustainable manner by the provincial and federal governments. The time has come to remove the barriers which have existed for many decades and work collaboratively in a manner that empowers members of the First Nations communities in the process,” stated Lee.
Many of the northern First Nations communities do not have local resources or programs available to help prevent such tragedies. In addition, the entire region suffers from a lack of access to short-term and long-term pediatric mental health services. Community hospitals such as SLMHC are not appropriately equipped nor staffed to safely care for youth who are in crisis. Regional in-patient beds for youth in crisis exist, but the current level of need has created a surge in the system resulting in significant overcapacity issues. Long-term resources to assist in the transitioning of youth back into their home communities are also required.
“We commend everyone working on the ground in the affected communities, those who have made donations, facilities receiving patients, and the various levels of organizations and government helping out. However, more aggressive actions must be taken as we believe suicide among First Nations youth has reached the stage of being a regional crisis,” said Mamakwa.
The lack of children’s developmental services and mental health resources at the community level are only two of several factors that contribute to youth ending up in crisis later on in their lives. Both Mamakwa and Lee agree that a plan to create sustainable resources is required and essential across the continuum of care in northwestern Ontario. However, the plan must be integrated with an accessible pathway to short and long-term mental health care for youth and their families when local and regional resources are at capacity.