Both the government and the opposition are admitting that more needs to be done to address mental health issues and high Indigenous suicide rates in northern Saskatchewan.

The Advocate for Children and Youth, Corey O’Soup, tabled his annual report Tuesday, saying Indigenous males aged 10 to 19 are six times more likely to die from suicide, while Indigenous females in the same age category are 26 times more likely to commit suicide.

Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette says it is time the government do something about this crisis.

“The government has an obligation. They see the report. It’s black and white. There’s no hiding it. Is it a crisis? Yes it is, let’s respond now,” Vermette said.

Greg Ottenbreit, the minister responsible for rural and remote health says the government is making progress by investing $11.4 million in new money into mental health supports, providing mental health first aid training in the north and expanding mental health training for physicians.

“This is an issue, its significant and very important to us in Saskatchewan,” said Ottenbreit.

Vermette countered, saying the political will is not there. In trying to help ease the critical need for mental health services in the north, O’Soup is recommending community-based training of local professionals.

O’Soup says it’s shameful that in some cases people must wait up to two years to see a psychiatrist. Ottenbreit concedes that time frame is too long, given that it takes a few months to get an appointment in Regina or Saskatoon.

“A psychiatrist is a specialist,” said Ottenbreit. “A little bit of a wait time for a psychiatrist isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Two years, 18 months is too long.”

Ottenbriet says there are supports available, but in some cases vulnerable people just need someone to listen and talk to.

“Eight hundred and eleven is a stopgap, it’s not a fix, but contacting an initial mental health supports services on 811,” said Ottenbreit. “Peer support, by having different individuals, maybe it’s even teachers or people in the community trained in mental health first aid.”

O’Soup agrees saying his office is shining the spotlight on increased conversation on mental health, believing suicides are preventable.

(PHOTO: Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette. Photo courtesy of Doyle Vermette, Facebook.)