The Cree Health Board is not doing enough to ensure one of the most pressing health issues in Eeyou Istchee – mental health – is properly addressed; especially after the alarming rash of suicides in recent months.

But they are not the only ones to blame.

The CHB’s 2003-2004 operating budget is pegged at $53 million, of which the lion’s share ($23 million) goes toward the inland and coastal CLSCs.

The mental health portfolio for the nine communities falls under the inland CLSCs’ budget of $10.4 million. According to Helen Atkinson, the Communications Director at the CHB, less than $800,000 of that budget is actually spent on mental health.

One of the problems, she says, is that not enough money is available to the Health Board from the Quebec government – something which the CHB hopes to change during negotiations for next year’s budget.

If people have wondered why there are no full-time psychologists and psychiatrists in Eeyou Istchee, the money issue is only part of it.

Atkinson also said there is a shortage of housing. That’s another failure of the Quebec government, which has not ensured that sorely needed professionals have a place to live in each community.

The CHB is hoping the next budget will provide funding for full-time psychologists in all nine communities. It should be signed in the next few weeks.

Until now, the budget has dictated the “deal-with-it-as-it-happens” practice of calling in the psychologists and psychiatrists after a suicide has occurred to cope with the grief and mourning.

But the government and the money it hands out can only take so much of the blame. The figures speak for themselves. Why is mental health one of the CHB’s smallest spending priorities?

The people who need help represent the past, present and future of the Cree Nation. They should have someone to talk to when feeling depressed or bored or suicidal.

Speaking to different people who have dealt with suicide first hand, I have felt a real helplessness when they discussed the deaths of their son or daughter, or father or mother. Where could they turn to for help? When the system isn’t even available to help protect your loved ones, it can get very lonely by yourself.

People need to talk more about their feelings. One way to take a proactive stance would be to start a support group that meets once or twice a week.

The more we talk about what’s going on in our lives the better equipped with knowledge and strength we will be to deal with the problems that come with living in Native communities.

In Montreal and most other towns -no matter how small – there are numerous support groups for people to call or visit to help figure out their repressed feelings. But where can Cree youth turn when they have a problem? What about the older generations?

After speaking with professionals in the field, I concluded that although some things are in place to help the people of Chisasibi, such as a 24-hour hotline, there is still a much more that needs to be done in the rest of the Cree territory.

Chisasibi Hospital’s Dr. Michael Lefson recognizes the need for full-time mental health professionals. These doctors only visit the community every two or three weeks, if that.

If there was something to improve on, he said, it would be having a professional in the community when needed -full time.

What about the smaller communities that don’t have a hospital or a 24-hour hotline, like Eastmain or Nemaska? They seem to be falling through the cracks.

Isn’t it time more was done to address the root of one of the biggest health issues in Eeyou Istchee – the state of mental anguish of the people?