Consider the Indigenous inmates who,on the day of release, are dropped offat a bus station with no money, no IDand no destination, chased by the twindemons of mental illness and addiction.
Or the Indigenous person living with amental illness, who steps yet again intotreatment, but finds no opportunity totalk about past traumas or get supportfrom elders.
What would it take to chart a betterway?
Two Indigenous Patient Journeyprojects explored that question withthe ones who know best: Indigenouspeople who have lived through suchexperiences.
Alberta Health Services researchersinterviewed 200 First Nations, Métis andInuit people—half in their communities,and half in correctional service centres.Most were or had been homeless, dealingwith mental illness and addiction.
Nearly all told of dark journeys,says Randal Bell, senior advisor forIndigenous Populations. His passion forthis work is fuelled by his heritage. He isa Nehithaw (Cree) from Saskatchewan.In his work, people spoke about traumascaused by residential schools, addictionand the deaths of people close to them.They spoke of culturally insensitiveprogram staff, and the difficulty they hadaccessing services. Time and time again,they cycled from crisis to crisis.
“Capturing those stories is huge,” Bell
says. “People will only go to the services
that work for them. It’s important that
we listen to people and it’s imperative
that we learn from them.”
The projects produced two reports.
They build on work at AHS and
elsewhere in the province.
“The projects are helping peoplesee that Indigenous people experienceservice gaps no matter where they turnfor help,” says Coreen Everington,strategy implementation director forAlberta Health’s Addiction and MentalHealth.
The report recommended hiringmore Indigenous staff and expandingculturally appropriate programming.Other recommendations include trainingall AHS staff to understand the effectsof trauma, opening more transition andharm-reduction housing and ensuringthat everyone has identification so theycan access services and support.
“The good thing is, this comes directlyfrom the voices of the people we wantto help,” says Marty Landrie, directorof Indigenous Health Policy for AlbertaHealth.
“It’s making the invisible visible. Andwith a voice comes choice.”
IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH
With a voice comes choice
WRITTEN BY CHERYL MAHAFFY
•;75 per cent had a parentor parents who had attended aresidential school
•;41 per cent had attendedresidential schools
•;95 per cent did not understandtheir multiple symptoms weresigns of precarious mentalhealth
•;87 per cent in correctionalservices (and 75 per cent incommunities) described multiplefamily tragedies and/or familybreakdowns
•;84 per cent in correctionalservices (and 57 per centin communities) said lack ofgovernment-issued identificationkept them from accessingmental health (and other)services
•;80 per cent in correctionalservices (and 46 per centin communities) reportedchildhood struggles with mentalhealth within their families
•;86 per cent said caring andunderstanding staff are the mostimportant factor in healing
•;35 per cent of those who nolonger need mental healthservices credited their recoveryand wellness to rediscoveringtheir culture and spirituality.
Of the 200 Indigenous mentalhealth services clients interviewedfor the journey projects:
What helped me is
reconnecting with my
culture, healing my