SUMA mayor’s caucus calling for more availability of mental health supports

HIV is most commonly transmitted through injection drug use. (Herald file photo)

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) are raising concerns with the availability of mental health and addictions support in Saskatchewan.

The organization is calling on provincial and federal government to work together to address the issue.

I think the issue of mental health is a challenge for everyone in the municipalities of Saskatchewan that is working with both the federal and provincial governments trying to get the services to the people that need it most,’” Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers, Chair of SUMA’s City Mayors Caucus (CMC).

Aalbers said they want the Government of Saskatchewan to increase the availability of mental health supports to help people address their trauma and to provide further supports for those seeking help with addictions.

We would love to see the provincial and the federal government work together to address this issue,” he said. “Healthcare and homelessness fall into the provincial and federal responsibilities, but as municipal leaders we seem to be ground zero each and every day.”

Aalbers said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to bring the issue of mental health to the forefront. He said municipal leaders were always aware of it, but the pandemic has shown just how severe the problem is.

It has certainly been highlighted (before),” he explained. “I think that’s the biggest piece, it has been definitely elevated with the pandemic. Certainly, we have seen many more cases of drug overdoses. We also have seen an increase in medical services as well as mental health services and with the challenges that the health services have gone through providing that due to COVID has just been definitely elevated.”

The SUMA City Mayors’ Caucus hosted federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett, and Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada, Dan Vandal, at their meeting on Feb. 11.

According to SUMA the ministers spoke on what the federal government is doing on the mental health and addictions file, and how they will ensure that the needs of Saskatchewan municipalities are addressed. City mayors will be meeting with Saskatchewan’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health Everett Hindley in early March to discuss current initiatives at the provincial level.

I think that it is just very much prevalent in most cities in Saskatchewan on a daily basis. The issues and we have seen it in the news from Saskatoon and Regina as they have been trying to deal with homelessness and the challenges that’s associated with that,” Aalbers said.

Saskatchewan saw a record year of overdose deaths in 2021 461 confirmed of suspected drug fatalities. The previous record was set in 2020, when 327 people died.

Recent survey data from Angus Reid showed one in three Canadians are struggling with their mental health. Residents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are among the hardest hit provinces, with residents there 39 per cent more likely to be dealing with poor pandemic-related mental health.