Health minister accused of being ‘out of touch’ over mental health


The NWT’s politicians are again debating whether the Northwest Territories is in the middle of a mental health crisis.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby first put the question to health and social services minister Julie Green in February 2021, at which point Green took issue with use of the term “crisis.” 

The heated exchange ended with the minister apologizing to Nokleby and each withdrawing points of order against the other.

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“I find it disgusting that the minister does not accept she is in the middle of a crisis, that the pandemic is only accelerating that crisis,” Nokleby said at the time. “If she continues to deny the problem … we’re only going to see things get worse.”

In the second instance, in February 2022, Nokleby asked whether the minister would “finally admit” the territory was in a mental health crisis. She pointed out there is no residential treatment program nor adolescent psychiatric unit in the NWT.

Responding, Green danced around the term crisis. She acknowledged that mental health challenges had increased during the pandemic but said she believed the territory’s mental health services were adequate. 

Minister of Health and Social Services Julie Green in the Legislative Assembly on February 25, 2022.

“I recognize that the pandemic has been incredibly stressful for almost everyone. It has produced a lot of anxiety, depression, loneliness, especially for people who live on their own, like Elders. And we have provided services throughout,” she said.

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“The demand for services is uneven. At this point, we are able to keep up with the demand for services, and so I feel confident that we’re not facing anything that we can’t deal with.”

The issue resurfaced this month when parts of a letter from the Native Women’s Association to Green were made public. According to NNSL, the society said it was “appalled and dismayed” by Green’s comments on mental health and had requested a meeting with the minister to discuss the topic further.  (Cabin Radio has not seen the letter.)

Green addressed reporting about the letter both in the legislature and on her Facebook page. The minister said her statement had not been quoted in its entirety and said she felt that had resulted in her being misunderstood. 

Nokleby on Thursday again raised the topic in the legislature, saying Green’s comments had shown “how out of touch with reality this minister is.”

Nokleby argued the territory needed in-person and culturally appropriate supports rather than apps and crisis lines to address mental health issues. 

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“Covid-19 has compounded the mental health crisis in the North, with increasing rates of homelessness, addiction, suicide, violence, depression, and incarceration. Intergenerational trauma and the pandemic have created a double burden that is overwhelming our people’s ability to deal with it,” the MLA said. 

“Acknowledging a problem is the first step to finding its solution.”

The following day, referencing a recent trip to the Dehcho to learn more about flood recovery, Nokleby spoke about her own mental health and what she believes is inadequate support to communities.

“My own mental health has been struggling through this last while as I listen to people tell me, time and time again, how neglected they feel by this cabinet, how neglected they feel by senior bureaucracy, and how basically horrific things have become in some of the smaller communities,” she said.

“I really have to say, I don’t think people care.”