Indigenous youth in New Brunswick need more mental health support: report

FREDERICTON — A report on youth suicide prevention in New Brunswick Indigenous communities is calling for provincial legislation that would recognize and support Indigenous languages and for more mental health funding.

The report released Tuesday called “No Child Left Behind” makes 13 recommendations — or calls to action — to address the challenges faced by Indigenous children and youth.

First Nations Advisory Council co-chair Roxanne Sappier says there have been eight suicides of young Indigenous people in the province since the council began working on the report in April.

She said while the national suicide rate among Indigenous people is three times higher than among non-Indigenous people, it is almost seven times higher in Indigenous males 15 to 24 years of age.

“The mental health and wellness issues that First Nations deal with are unique,” she told a news conference on the St. Mary’s First Nation in Fredericton.

“Our identities and cultures have been disrupted by a long colonial history and its many impacts _ including intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools, erosion of our languages, cultures and spirituality,” she said.

Sappier said the first call to action to address language is very important.

“Research has shown that Indigenous youth who know their languages and cultures are more resilient and are at less risk of suicide. Connection to language and culture is also essential to treating and preventing trauma and addiction,” she said.

Chief Aaron Sock of Elsipogtog said he recently looked at a picture of his Grade 5 class, and eight of the 15 children _ five of the boys and three of the girls _ had died by suicide.

“In a class picture like that you realize half of your cohorts are gone. It really hits home,” Sock said after pausing to contain his emotion. “I hope the 13 calls to action that have come out of that report produce some tangible results. There’s been too many lives lost already.”

Other recommendations include creating a forum involving Indigenous leaders, organizations and the federal and provincial governments. There’s also a call to train judges and Crown prosecutors on Indigenous intergenerational trauma and relevant options for Indigenous youth in conflict with the law.

New Brunswick deputy child and youth advocate Christian Whalen said his office will hold government to account and track the implementation of the recommendations.

Whalen said his office has endorsed all 13 recommendations, which will also be part of a second report to be released Wednesday.

The Youth Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Services Review report was spurred by the death in February of 16-year-old Lexi Daken, who died by suicide less than a week after waiting eight hours at a hospital emergency room in Fredericton.

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