Mental health support goes grassroots in Kitamaat Village

Crisis Response Committee to bridge gaps in health services for the Haisla in Kitamaat Village.

When a member of the community died, volunteers with the Haisla Health Centre opened up Kitamaat Village’s recreation centre and welcomed affected persons inside where they were hosted through all hours of the night.

It is at once a great demonstration of community members taking the lead in supporting others in need, yet it’s also a sign of how health workers in Kitamaat Village are closing the gap between government funded services and the true needs of the community.

Health Manager Eric Bottah says they had to figure out a way to reach people who otherwise would fall through the cracks of the established health system.

For instance, the office closes each day at 4:30 p.m., and there are no workers on during the weekends.

Late last year they held a survey to find out what people in the community wanted as far as services so the Health Centre could gear their efforts where they’d be most effective.

The result is the Haisla Community Crises Response Committee, is a key group which provides outreach to the community to combat suicides and give support to people in times of crisis.

The committee, which so far consists of a core group of 15 who are trained in suicide prevention. The training is a key component; members have been provided special skills to deal with the issues.

The people on the committee, he said, are in a sense gatekeepers to mental health services in the community.

There are a lot of reasons why grassroots approaches to crises is important.

Kitamaat Village is a community of approximately 700 people.

A single incident can affect the entire community, he said.

For suicides specifically, there has been three suicides in the Village over the past three years, one as recently as September.

In British Columbia as a whole, the suicide rates in Aboriginal communities are as much as five to six times the rate as non-Aboriginal communities.

Bottah says there’s a reality in First Nation communities when it comes to services. That is, there is often a shortfall of some kind.

For one, there are usually not enough mental health counsellors.

For those that are working they are primarily concentrated in the Lower Mainland, which makes accessing their services, or even affording them, a challenge.

(Bringing up a counsellor means providing food, lodging, and other expenses.)

Meanwhile for the people living in the communities, they are often dealing with a variety of issues, such as the boredom that comes with living in a rural area, poor living conditions, and addictions, said Bottah.

When the health centre conducted their survey in December, the results showed there was a keen interest in offering services which related very closely with suicide.

Forty-eight per cent even named suicide prevention as a priority. Forty-seven per cent also prioritized alcohol and drug education, and 38 per cent wanted focus on treatment aftercare.

Bottah says the strategy to use community resources includes using community networks, the experience of community elders and other programs such as North West Counselling.

Members of the community Crises Response Committee are screened through background and criminal record checks and they’re all bound by confidentiality agreements.

“If trust goes away the whole program falls apart,” said Bottah.

He also said they want to reduce the barriers people have to addressing their problems.

“By raising awareness of mental health, drugs and addiction we can help people to talk about their problems,” he said.

Breaking down the stigma will help the committee reach more people.

The Crises Response Committee will get a formal introduction to Kitamaat Village when the Haisla Health Centres hosts a community forum on October 21.