First Nations chiefs raise alarm over mental health impacts of COVID-19

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A few months before the novel coronavirus arrived in Canada, the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation at Loon Lake, Sask., was already raising the alarm over suicides in the community, located about 360 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

The First Nation declared a state of crisis in mid-November 2019 after three deaths by suicide occurred over three weeks, including a 10-year-old girl. In the weeks that followed, band leaders say eight people, mainly youths, also tried to take their lives.

Chief Ronald Mitsuing says a deep sense of grief remains within the community of just over 1,000 people, especially after a 31-year-old man in the community died by suicide two weeks ago.

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Now, Mitsuing says he fears the stress and worry about a possible outbreak of COVID-19 could trigger further mental health suffering among some of his residents.

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“Losing the youth really took a big toll out of our community. And I know it’s ongoing — people thinking about it all the time, can’t get past it,” he said.

“We’re not in that comfortable stage yet where we know it’s going to be all right.”

He is not alone.

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