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Money budgeted for mental health, addictions needs to reach rural Sask., say advocates

CBC's drone captured this shot of the shoreline of Pinehouse, a village in northern Saskatchewan. (CBC News - image credit)
CBC's drone captured this shot of the shoreline of Pinehouse, a village in northern Saskatchewan. (CBC News - image credit)

Advocates say more needs to be done to ensure rural and remote areas in Saskatchewan benefit from provincial funding targeting mental health and addictions.

On Wednesday, the 2024-25 provincial budget included $574 million for mental health and addictions services, a 10.9 per cent increase over last year. Of that, $22 million will go toward increased hospital-based services, physician visits and prescription drug costs.

"Our focus is on helping more people overcome addictions and live healthy, safe lives in recovery," said Mental Health and Addictions Minister Tim McLeod in a news release Wednesday.

"By making addictions treatment more accessible, we can save lives, heal families and strengthen our communities."

Kimberly Smith operates a land-based wellness camp and homeless shelter out of Muskwa Lake, pictured above.
Kimberly Smith operates a land-based wellness camp and homeless shelter out of Muskwa Lake, pictured above.

Kimberly Smith operates a land-based wellness camp and homeless shelter out of Muskwa Lake, pictured above. (Submitted by Kimberly Smith)

Kimberly Smith, manager of health and wellness at Kineepik Métis Local, operates a land-based wellness camp and homeless shelter out of Muskwa Lake and another at Pinehouse Lake, about 360 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

She said while she is happy to see this budget increase, she finds most of the funding is doled out to the major centres and other communities, especially northern communities, tend to receive very little.

"We've been doing decades of work in trying to progress our programs and have them be funded," Smith said. "A lot of communities don't have what we have because we're not building them up."

LISTEN | CBC walks through the highlights of this year's provincial budget: 

Lori Skjeie is the mental health and addictions director of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

She said that there is a need for culturally appropriate programming in northern communities.

"I could see that being helpful as far as, you know, case co-ordination, mental wellness under addiction assessment, individual counselling for crisis, trauma, anxiety, depression, stress, isolation," she said.

Skjeie wants to see more programming focused on youth, a population she believes to be underserved in these areas.

New developments

Also within the provincial budget is $216 million for kindergarten to grade 12 school capital projects. About $8.8 million in funding is going toward planning nine new schools and two renovations. A replacement for Minahik Waskahigan High School in Pinehouse is one of the new projects.

Smith said the community looks forward to the new school, as many northern and remote communities face issues with failing infrastructure.

"Other programs can go into the new school, or complement the new school, or start to increase with their programming," said Smith.

"If services go into the school that are community led, then that kind of opens up other locations where some of our programs can run out of."

Skjeie said that having these spaces will improve mental health and wellness in the north.

"Having this, a safe space to celebrate culture and to teach culture where it comes, you know it, it aligns with Métis values."