Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced on Tuesday that the Canadian government will allot $82.5 million for mental health and wellness support for Indigenous communities.
The funding will help existing services adapt, expand, and improve their access amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This will include expanding services like on-the-land activities, community-based health support, and mental wellness teams; as well as supporting Indigenous partners in addressing substance use, according to the government’s press release.
"In almost all of the discussions that I have had with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives since the beginning of the pandemic, the importance of recognizing and supporting mental wellness as a core need of the COVID-19 response has been communicated regularly," Miller said.
He added: "Community-driven, culturally appropriate, and timely mental health supports are critical to promote the well-being for anyone struggling to cope with the added stress and anxiety the COVID-19 pandemic has created."
A recent study by Statistics Canada revealed that COVID-19 had had significantly negative impacts on the mental health of Indigenous people, with 60% of Indigenous respondents saying that their mental health had become "somewhat worse" or "much worse" since physical distancing began.
Miller said on Tuesday that pre-existing, intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities had been made worse by the pandemic, CBC reported.
"This has caused and increased mental health challenges for individuals and communities as a whole," Miller said. "Prior to the pandemic, demand for counselling and mental wellness support was already trending upward."
The Hope for Wellness Help Line, a crisis hotline for Indigenous people in Canada, received 3,602 calls and chats from January to April 2019 — the same period in 2020 saw more than 10,000 calls and chats, according to the Canadian government.
The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in British Columbia also reported in July that First Nations overdose deaths almost doubled between January and May 2020.
The funding announced is in response to the advocacy work of many Indigenous leaders requesting support for mental health.
Chief Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations National Chief, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was good to see the government addressing mental health and allocating more resources for First Nations people and their families amid the pandemic.
You can find Canada-wide mental health resources, including phone, text, and chat services here and contact the Hope for Wellness Helpline here, which offers counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples across Canada.