People in isolation centres need mental health support, says MLA

Last modified: October 21, 2020 at 8:19am

Some Elders say spending time in isolation centres feels “like residential school all over again,” a Northwest Territories MLA said as he called for more mental health supports to be offered.

Anyone entering or returning to the NWT must currently spend two weeks in isolation, with a handful of exceptions. Residents of smaller communities must isolate in one of four larger centres: Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, or Fort Smith.

In the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn said longstanding mental health concerns in the NWT had been amplified by Covid-19 as people spend time inside, alone.


“We are in a mental health crisis in the North that needs immediate attention from this government,” Norn said.

Describing his own challenges while isolating at Yellowknife’s Chateau Nova Hotel earlier this year, Norn said: “I can only imagine what that burden is like on people that have to do repeated medical visits down south.”

The MLA said he had been approached by Elders who compared isolation centres to “residential school all over again” as they were moved into an unusual space and given specific meals.

“We can do more to help with mental health supports for northerners.” Norn said.

“If you’re in a self-isolation centre, a helpline is not enough.” 


Premier Caroline Cochrane – who oversees the territory’s pandemic response – told Norn the NWT has volunteer “navigators” who help people in isolation access services they need, including mental health supports.

All isolation centre staff know how to contact that centre’s designated navigator, she said.

“In extreme cases, when disturbances have been found in the isolation centres and the RCMP have been called, they also know how to reach the navigator,” Cochrane added. 

The premier said the risk of Covid-19 transmission had to be considered when offering further supports.


Virtual care – the practice of offering medical support or counselling remotely, by phone or internet – had been a “tremendous support” to the territory’s healthcare system, she said.