From next week, Northwest Territories residents will be able to connect to a mental health coach by phone from their home.
The Strongest Families Institute, which provides a non-emergency mental health coaching service, will launch its service across the territory on January 20. Half a million dollars in funding was announced on Wednesday.
$250,000 will come from the NWT government, with $250,000 jointly from Northwestel and its parent company's Bell Let's Talk initiative. The money is expected to pay for the launch and five years of operations, meaning the service will be at no cost to residents using toll-free numbers.
Sara Chorostkowski, the territorial government's acting director for mental illness and addictions recovery, said the service would provide another option for residents seeking mental health support.
At the moment, the NWT's main tool for mental wellness and addictions counselling is a community counselling program. Chorostkowski says that program has counsellors located in 19 communities. In remaining communities, counsellors fly in or deliver telephone services.
"Our vision is that [the new Strongest Families service] will be available, through referral, from all of our health and social services providers – social workers, nurses, physicians," said Chorostkowski.
"We need to make sure that those providers are trained, so we're in the process of training right now."
The service is not an emergency line. Cases considered more severe will still receive specialized care through health centres or the inpatient unit at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
Patricia Lingley-Pottie, chief executive of Strongest Families, said the charity's coaching line had staff "highly trained on risk management" should a more severe or emergency case arise.
Health minister Diane Thom, left, speaks at Wednesday's funding announcement Wednesday. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Lingley-Pottie said Strongest Families is an option for people who might not have the need or time for other services.
"They can do it in the evening. They can do it during the day, if they work nights. They can do it after their kid is in bed at night. It's just more accessible," Chorostkowski added.
"It provides another option and another piece of choice that people can make in regards to what's the right service for them, based on their personal life and their personal needs."
Lingley-Pottie said: "People can get help on their phones at convenient times, day or night. There's no need to travel or take time from work or school. There's no cost burden and the stigma is virtually eliminated."
Lingley-Pottie gave the example of a family living in a rural area, receiving help through the service for a nine-year-old facing behavioural and anxiety problems at home and in school.
The service operates in nine Canadian provinces according to Lingley-Pottie. She said coaches receive cultural competency training, some of which will now be NWT-specific.
Methods of reaching the service were not made public on Wednesday, as the service has yet to launch. Those details are expected to be available from January 20. Residents will receive referrals to the service through the Department of Health and Social Services.