Saskatchewan mayors are sounding the alarm on what they’re calling an extremely concerning availability of mental health and addictions support in the province.
The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) says the issue has never received sufficient resources and continues to be exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
“We want to ensure that the resources that are made available from both the federal and provincial governments reach the people that need them the most and the residents of every city, town, village throughout Saskatchewan,” explained Gerald Aalbers, Chair of SUMA’s City Mayors Caucus (CMC).
Aalbers adds the association wants to see more resources with greater urgency from the provincial and federal governments.
He said it’s not just about addressing mental health and addictions, but the crisis also closely encompasses the need for housing security and stable care for vulnerable people.
“That treatment falls at every community, from those who require detox, to what level of support would they be able to find in their communities to transitioning back into the life that they want rather than the life that they’re leading,” Aalbers said.
He said every day, city mayors are receiving calls from concerned citizens with loved ones that need help.
“But these loved ones may wait months before they can access any form of services and for those that do receive help with their addiction, there are insufficient supports after they’ve finished treatment to ensure that they successfully defeat their addiction in the long term,” Aalbers said.
SUMA believes additional and timely resources will help people address their trauma, and to provide further supports for those seeking help with addictions.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said all levels of government need to work cohesively in order to make real progress.
“The response needs to be one that coordinates both the response for the establishment of housing for people and then also the supports needed to help stabilize somebody dealing with addictions and mental health,” Clark stated.
He goes on to say there needs to be a deeper and more sympathetic comprehension of the issues stigmatized individuals face — not just by politicians, but by everyone.
“We need to understand that homelessness, addictions and mental health are not an issue of criminality or individual failure, they are a health issue.”
He adds that since this is a problem regarding the well-being of individuals, the response needs to involve the input of health ministers as well.
Jason Mercredi, the executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction, emphasizes the situation is still deteriorating.
“We have more people dying from overdoses than we ever have before, not to mention the homelessness problem that’s really crippling this province,” Mercredi said.
Mercredi mentions that even though the province has promised a total of around 150 treatment beds, they’ll take up to three years to be made available, which he thinks simply isn’t acceptable.
In addition, he said that residents in rural areas are having to often travel to cities such as Saskatoon and Regina in order to find support, something many don’t have the time or means to be doing, Mercredi said.
“I don’t think it matters where you live in Saskatchewan, everyone’s grappling with the same issue,” he stated.
Mercedi continued to say residents cannot forget that providing vulnerable citizens with the extra help they so desperately need can in turn help transform Saskatchewan into a better province overall.
SUMA officials recently met with the Federal Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett and the Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada, Dan Vandal, on Friday.
The ministers spoke on what the federal government is doing on the mental health and addictions file, and how they will ensure the needs of Saskatchewan municipalities are addressed.
The association will be meeting with Saskatchewan Minster for Mental Health and Addictions Everett Hindley in early March to discuss initiatives at the provincial level.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health sent the following statement:
“The Government of Saskatchewan is committed to helping those living with mental health and addictions. This is why Mental Health and Addictions received its largest budget allocation ever in the 2021-22 Provincial Budget.
“All Saskatchewan residents can access mental health and addiction resources through HealthLine 811. The Ministry of Health also funds 23 walk-in, virtual-appointment and phone-in mental health counselling services in 22 communities across the province,” the statement goes on to read.
“We know that individuals with intensive mental health needs benefit from client-centred services in their community. Last month, we announced more residential beds are operating in Saskatchewan for people who have severe, persistent mental health needs.”
The statement goes on to say these new beds are part of the province’s commitment in 2019-20 to provide approximately 75 residential mental health beds across Saskatchewan.
“Our government is also committed to continuing to pursue further opportunities to increase the number of addictions treatment and detox spaces in the province, with the goal of adding another 150 spaces over the next three years.”
Additional recent government initiatives to reduce overdoses include:
· $940,000 for targeted harm reduction services including drug checking services, harm reduction supplies, programming and naloxone;
· Expansion of the free Take Home Naloxone program available in more than 180 locations and 70 communities across the province; and
· Introduction of access to free take home fentanyl and benzodiazepine drug checking strips at 30 locations province wide.
Information on additional mental health supports available in Saskatchewan can be found online at: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/health/accessing-health-care-services/mental-health-and-addictions-support-services/mental-health-support.