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N.W.T. embarks on 2-year project to reduce wait times, improve options for mental health services

The Northwest Territories government is working with the Mental Health Commission of Canada on a two-year project to reduce wait times and improve services for people seeking mental health and addictions support.

The government says the project will make it easier for people to access mental health services, regardless of where they live. This will be done by providing residents with a variety of support options, from traditional methods like counselling, online resources to even phone apps. 

A new model for delivering mental health services will also be implemented. 

The new delivery system, called Stepped Care 2.0, was designed by Dr. Peter Cornish, a Saskatchewan-based consultant. It provides a nine-step process that helps match people with the right level of care based on their needs. 

A graphic outlining the nine steps of Stepped Care 2.0, a new system being implemented to reduce wait times for mental health services in the N.W.T. (Submitted by the Government of the Northwest Territories)

“The goal there is … to be much more responsive and much more timely in our ability to support people,” said Sara Chorostkowski, director of wellness and addiction recovery at the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services.

Chorostkowski said part of the project has involved eliminating wait times for the community counselling program so people can receive same-day access to a mental health professional. 

In January, the first e-based option called Strongest Families was also launched. Chorostkowksi said people can expect to see more e-based options available in early 2021.

Ed Mantler, a vice-president at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said across the country there are often long wait times in order to see a mental health professional.

“Many people [who] try to access mental health services … are challenged for a number of reasons, particularly in rural, remote, northern communities where distance and travel might be an issue,” he said.

Mantler explained how not everyone needs to see or wants to see a mental health specialist.

“Many people can benefit simply from reading information,” he said.

“This [project] is important because it creates those options and … matches the needs of the client with the [right] level of intervention,” he said.

Mantler said the full Stepped Care 2.0 model should be available to N.W.T. residents by the year’s end.

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