By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

First Nations and Métis youth will now have access to suicide prevention programs and mental health care in B.C. going forward.

The Province has recently invested $2.3 million to provide life-saving medical interventions and mental health care services for those at-risk of declining during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is vital that youth in our communities struggling with suicidal thoughts have access to help when and where they need it. Nobody should have to face mental health challenges alone,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a recent press release. “Expanding the reach of suicide prevention programs for students and Indigenous youth gets more young people access to the tools, skills and community supports they need to cope in challenging times.”

The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) expects to receive $800,000 in funding to deliver treatment programs that raise awareness on suicide prevention as well as providing activities that promote mental health and wellness in First Nations communities. It is expected the FNHA youth advisory committees may be eligible for providing expanded suicide prevention services.

“First Nations youth suicide is a long-standing concern, so more funding for suicide prevention is critical in building on the work the FNHA is already doing in collaboration with our health partners during the pandemic,” said Dr. Nel Wieman, acting deputy chief medical officer, FNHA spokesperson in a recent press release. “Furthermore, including B.C. First Nations youth in all aspects of life promotion is critical to productive engagement. It is often said our youth are our future, but they are also our present and their mental health needs are urgent.”

In addition, $200,000 will support citizens from the Métis Nation of B.C. to promote youth wellness initiatives by developing online mental health support courses as well as anti-stigma and awareness campaigns.

“Suicide does not discriminate,” said Clara Morin Dal Col, Métis Nation British Columbia president, in a recent press release. “It impacts Métis people of all ages and in every community in the province. We have a shared responsibility, and we all have the opportunity to help make an impact and save lives. Our Nation’s Ministry of Health is committed to creating culturally appropriate materials that truly support our Métis people, and I know that this funding will have a deeply positive impact on the lives of people in our communities.”

The remaining $1.3 million will support the Canadian Mental Health Association – BC Division (CMHA-BC) to expand and enhance suicide prevention programs through a series of grants administered to post-secondary institutions. The purpose of these grants will be to support student engagement for treatment, supports and referral programs.

In addition, the CMHA-BC expects to improve suicide awareness prevention programs that are offered at post-secondary institutions.

“This is such a critical phase for post-secondary students across B.C. as they cope with the pandemic, adapt to new and challenging learning environments and manage the regular pressures of transitions and student life,” said Jonny Morris, CMHA-BC chief executive officer in a recent press release. “These capacity-building grants will help campuses across B.C. develop and expand systems designed to prioritize student mental health and strengthen the safety net during an incredibly challenging time.”

Post-secondary students in B.C. are encouraged to access Here2Talk, a free province-wide mental health and counselling referral service that’s available online 24-7 through chat or telephone that was launched in April of 2020. The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training is evaluating the application of new voluntary guidelines in the National Standard of Canada for Mental Health and Well-Being for post-secondary students released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada in the fall.