Dr. David Swann gave the following statement on the floor of the Legislature today:
“Yesterday, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion on indigenous youth mental health, which was sponsored by the U of C Mathison Centre and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
“We heard directly from youth on the Kainai Board of Education, and watched a video about the Headstrong program, which is encouraging youth to talk about the stigma related to addictions and mental illness.
“Unfortunately, this stigma is still too common among our health professionals. In fact, there is a double stigma – first, for simply being indigenous, and, second, due to addictions and mental health issues.
“Another common theme was the lack of culturally-sensitive and more holistic approaches in our mental health system.
“Several panelists spoke eloquently of how traditional practices and mentoring from elders help them to break free from depression and addictions, and regain a sense of their identity and self-worth.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified the long history of intergenerational trauma and its lasting effect on First Nations people.
“Updates to Alberta’s curriculum should be aimed at giving all Albertans a deeper understanding of this and encouraging further participation in the reconciliation process.
“Tragically, we continue to see increasing incidence of mental illness and addictions across Alberta, including opiates and preventable deaths, now approaching two per day.
“While I commend the government for increasing investment in this area, spending alone is not the answer.
“Since 2008, and the elimination of Mental Health Board, there has been a lack of consistent leadership and coordinated planning.
“System change is very difficult without strong, sustained leadership. And, once again, I must call on the government to consider re-establishing a provincial mental health and addictions officer.
“We need immediate implementation of the recommendations from the Valuing Mental Health Report, including the long overdue reform of primary care networks and their role in mental health.
“Timely system changes will not only save lives, but they will substantially reduce health costs and boost staff morale.
“On Mental Health Week, let’s reaffirm our commitment to reducing the stigma of addictions and mental health, supporting our indigenous peoples, and showing greater leadership to address the current opioid crisis.”