Research highlights disparities in access to mental health services among Indigenous people

Global Health graduate Arjun Patel's research focuses on Indigenous communities' access to mental health services.

Mental Health Week, which runs from May 6 to 12, aims to open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness.

But to what extent do Indigenous communities across Canada have access to mental health care? This is the question posed by  Arjun Patel, a graduate of McMaster’s Global Health master’s program, in his recent research to be released later this month in the student-led journal, Global Health Annual Review.

Patel hopes to shine a light on the troubling health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – and also between Indigenous groups – in Canada with respect to access to mental health services.

“Mental illness disproportionately affects Indigenous communities, yet services are under-funded and certain groups are entirely underrepresented,” he explains. “Legally, Indigenous health is a federal responsibility, but mental health services vary dramatically from province to province.”

Seeing a gap in the academic literature, he wanted to explore how mental health care access differs not only between provinces and territories, but between Indigenous groups.

“The reality is that Inuit, Status Indians, non-Status Indians and Métis people all have differing levels of access to mental health services,” Patel says, noting that non-Status Indians and Métis people are largely neglected from federal and provincial health programs. “And this results in health disparities between Indigenous groups.”

These issues are compounded by the fact that nearly all government-funded programs emphasize Western medicine over Indigenous knowledge and healing. “Currently there’s a real lack of cultural safety, and a need to foster an environment that respects traditional healing,” he points out.

In an effort to take action on a critical global health issue, Patel provides policy recommendations based on his findings.

These recommendations include expanding First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) coverage to include non-Status Indians and Métis; the development of a federal First Nations, Métis, and Inuit health policy that ensures equitable health outcomes for all Indigenous peoples; and the inclusion of traditional Indigenous healing within government programs.

Patel’s research will be published later this month.

Related Stories