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Aboriginals Applaud Federal Mental Health Strategy

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Aboriginals of all stripes are applauding a mental-health strategy released by the federal government.

Changing Directions, Changing Lives was released on May 8 by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and breaks down the issue into six strategic areas: prevention of mental illness as well as awareness measures; providing access to services; supporting mentally ill people and helping them recover; focusing more specifically on the elderly, First Nations and remote communities in general, and facilitating the collaboration of government agencies and stakeholders, according to CBC News.

It called for $4 billion in funding, as well as political action and has been embraced by everyone from the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) to aboriginal leaders.

The vice president of the Inuit organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Jack Anawak, told the Nunatsiaq News that the strategy could provide “a good start to a healthy Nunavut.”

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Not only are more mental health professionals needed, he said, but they also must be schooled in the differences between north and south. “There’s a difference between treating someone from downtown Toronto and treating someone from downtown Iqaluit,” he told the newspaper.

Anawak was one of many aboriginals and groups working with the Mental Health Commission to craft the strategy. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) also played a role, working to ensure “distinct streams of care and services” for all three aboriginal groups, according to an AFN statement.

“We are proud of First Nation contributions to this important strategy that we hope will act as a guide to continued engagement with government on this priority area and others in closing the gap in mental wellness services for First Nations,” said AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “By working together in respect and partnership, we’ve been better able to ensure respect for indigenous identities, strengthen support for First Nation governments, and continue to urge all levels of government to help drive change based on strategic investments and specific targets for progress.”