Yukon mental health strategy a step forward, but lacks concrete outcomes

The Yukon NDP Official Opposition is welcoming the Government of Yukon’s new mental wellness strategy, published yesterday under the title “Forward Together”, as a long overdue strategy that identifies gaps in service, but that also needs a significant commitment of health care resources to achieve its stated outcomes.

About 7,500 Yukoners experience some form of mental illness or substance abuse every year. A mental health strategy has been a missing part of Yukon’s ability to deliver a comprehensive spectrum of mental health and substance abuse services. The government’s new strategy identifies important gaps in service. By committing to collaborate with First Nation governments, communities and health care professionals, the strategy works toward achieving recommendations set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The Yukon NDP Official Opposition has been asking for the creation of a comprehensive Yukon government mental health strategy for many years,” said Yukon NDP Health Critic Jan Stick. “We applaud the government for releasing a document that takes important steps toward identifying and improving access to mental health and substance abuse programming in Yukon, however the government needs to do more for this vision to succeed.”

The strategy neglects to include mental health goals for those involved in the justice system, where individuals with mental health issues are incarcerated and housed because of gaps in service. While the strategy also acknowledges gender and sexual diversity, it does not recommend specific actions that could improve mental health in the LGBQT community.

Strategic goals, such as reducing wait times for Mental Health Services, Child and Adolescent Therapeutic Services and Addiction Services, are not supported by timelines or measurable reduction targets that are necessary to determine success. Wait times of 9 to 12 months for Alcohol and Drug Service Counseling are unacceptable. Tangible reductions in these wait times are achievable, but only if the government makes targeted investments and hires more front-line staff who can support those goals.

As the Yukon government moves forward with yesterday’s mental wellness strategy, the Yukon NDP will be advocating for the allocation of increased resources for mental wellness program delivery, including personnel recruitment.

“Our hardworking health care professionals are pulling more than their fair share of the weight. By recommending ambitious outcomes, the Yukon government now needs to support these professionals with the tools they need to get the job done,” added Stick. “This new mental wellness strategy is a start, but it needs more substance and more resources to succeed.”