SIMFC providing mental health programs and services
- | April 24, 2021
With more attention paid to mental health and wellness in recent years, it may come as a surprise that Saskatchewan has lacked a provincial mental health service specifically for Indigenous people. The Saskatoon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre (SIMFC) is committed to changing that.
Sītoskawātowin is the first mental health program in Saskatchewan designed specifically for Urban Status and Treaty people. The need for such a service is profound, says organizers.
“Trauma is the main (mental health) concern in the province,” said Charleen Cote, one of two Registered Mental Health therapists working full time in SIMFC's Sītoskawātowin program.
“We see it as a result of colonialism, of Indian residential school and the Sixties Scoop, of child welfare, the justice system, the racial and gender-based disparities. The trauma we see in the province presents itself just as much now as it did before the pandemic.”
The program was green lit on April 1 by the First Nations Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada, and while the program is still being built, mental health services from SIMFC are already being provided.
Types of services include traditional parenting and emotional regulation; victims of violence healing circles; creative cultural expression for children; decolonization healing; group counselling; and individual in-person and virtual counselling.
The services are inclusive to people aged 8 to 80, said Cote.
“Indigenous people don't like to be counselled. We start out with sharing circles, with providing meals, with conversations, with being present in the community. By building those relationships, they know they can trust us. It's more about relationships than counselling. We're trying to connect.”
The name of the program, Sītoskawātowin, was chosen for this very reason, said Shauna Watcheston, Registered Mental Health therapist and social worker.
“It means supporting each other. When we talk about the dynamics of the program, that is one of the things that was most important to us. The name, which was given to us by an Elder, needed to be suited to the services we were offering and have a deeper meaning behind it,” said Watcheston.
The program is being funded for a year to gather statistics on how many Indigenous people are accessing mental health services in Saskatoon. But organizers are hopeful the program will continue for at least another four years.
“We are here for all Indigenous people both in the city and the province,” said Robert Doucette, SIMFC Executive Director.
“Our goal is to break the intergenerational cycles of trauma and abuse. This is our way of thinking outside the box. There's nothing more honourable than to help another person who is living with trauma or pain. This is the way we are going to help our brothers and sisters.”