Outreach model critical for mental health program

Staff of the Ogimaawabitoong Kenora Chiefs Advisory Mental Health and Addictions Program with their grandmother drum.

Kenora Chiefs Advisory program serves 13 communities

Mental health case managers with the Ogimaawabitoong Kenora Chiefs Advisory Mental Health and Addictions Program put a lot of kilometres on their cars serving clients in 13 far-flung Treaty 3 Indigenous communities.
Three of the 13 communities are situated on islands, notes program director Allyson Rheault. “We have winter road access for two or three months if we’re lucky. Otherwise, we use airboats to get there (during break-up) and regular boats in summer. One community has a barge that we drive onto to get transported over to the island. The community we serve in Dryden is a two-hour drive away.”
The whole purpose of the program is to provide community-based access to mental health and addiction services for Indigenous people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to make their way to Kenora for counselling because of poverty and a lack of transportation.
“We go to the people as opposed to them having to come to us,” said Rheault. “We go to their homes, we meet with them in our vehicles (if that’s the only place where we can have privacy), in school, or wherever it’s convenient for the client.”
The Mental Health and Addictions Program is currently staffed by nine adult mental health and three child and youth case managers with a variety of skills and expertise – including traditional healers, university graduates with Masters and Bachelors degrees in social work and social service workers with college diplomas.
The recent approval of seven more staff for the program’s child and youth service was welcomed, said Rheault, because with only three case managers, “we weren’t able to provide child and youth services to all of our communities.”
The program prides itself on not having any waiting lists.
“We don’t believe in them,” said Rheault. “If it’s a crisis, we have a crisis team and, generally, people can be seen in a week or less.”
The main issues case managers are dealing with, she says, are intergenerational trauma resulting from colonization, residential schools and 60’s scoops. “It’s very evident that those are the root causes of the mental health and addiction issues we face. We’re also dealing with a high rate of young adult and youth suicides.”
Clients can be referred to the service by friends, family members, teachers, other service providers, or by self-referral. They can phone, fax, text or email a request for an appointment.
Each case manager handles a caseload of 25 to 30 files and sees clients on a schedule dictated by risk level – from several times per week to monthly.
Success is often measured in small increments, said Rheault.
“You have to look at small successes and focus on those because they’re the building blocks for larger successes. It could be something as simple as forming a trusting relationship with a client. That can be a very, very difficult and slow process, but when you have someone who trusts you, that’s when the work can begin. We have clients who stop drinking and return to their culture. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Case managers have a wide set of tools and methods they can use.
“We take a bicultural approach,” said Rheault. “We start where the client is at. Not everybody in a First Nation community follows the traditional ways. Not all of them want to participate in traditional ceremonies, so we have to be very respectful about where people are at and what they want. Some people want a very mainstream approach of psychotherapy and counselling, and we have people in our organization who can provide that. Other people want a bicultural approach. They want us to use some mainstream techniques, but they also want us to incorporate traditional healing, ceremonies and teachings. We’re able to provide that by connecting people to these services in the community. Then there are people who only want to see an elder and only want to do traditional healing. We have many gifted people in our communities that we’re able to call on.”
The Mental Health and Addictions Program has recently expanded its services to include mobile mental health workers who can advocate for and do risk assessments for patients admitted to the Emergency Department at Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora.
“We also have a worker who will ride along with an Ontario Provincial Police officer when they receive youth-related crisis calls, and we’re just starting the same service with our Treaty 3 police service.”

Filed in: All Content, First Nations

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