Many Canadians are dealing with mental-health challenges that require support beyond what’s available through an employee assistance program — that’s where intensive mental-health treatments could help, said Vahed Lokhand, business development operations and strategy at EHN Canada, during a fireside chat at Benefits Canada’s 2023 Mental Health Summit.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach that can work for every single person and each of these strategies have a time and a place. Oftentimes, what I’ve heard in my time here is there’s a gap in the middle section, where someone might need something intensive, but not enough to warrant inpatient treatment.”

These intensive treatment programs allow people who are struggling with mental-health challenges to receive rigorous care while continuing to work. EHN’s program includes eight weeks of intensive therapy with two hours of group therapy per day four-times a week and one hour of individual counselling per week, primarily delivered online. That eight-week treatment is followed by 10 months of after-care. 

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Also speaking during the session, Karen Vince, vice-president of CINUP/Johnston Group, a third-party administrator of benefits plans for First Nations across Canada, said her organization has seen the benefits of intensive treatment programs firsthand. In 2021, after a years-long search for an intensive treatment provider, CINUP partnered with EHN on a specialized program to help plan members struggling with mental-health challenges, trauma and addiction. It launched a similar program for teens this year.

Access to health care, particularly mental-health care, for Indigenous people in Canada is crucial, but badly lacking, said Vince, noting suicide is the leading cause of death for Indigenous people aged 10 to 29 and suicide rates among First Nations youth are five- to seven-times that of non-Indigenous youth. A quarter of Indigenous people in Canada suffer from addiction and many of these challenges tie back to intergenerational trauma associated with colonization, racism and residential schools. 

“There is a severe lack of mental-health services available to the most vulnerable section of the Canadian population, both in terms of infrastructure and advocacy,” she said, attributing the deficit partly to the rural locations of many First Nations, as well as cost barriers, long wait times and a lack of trust in non-Indigenous organizations.

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After introducing the program, CINUP saw “immediate uptake,” according to Vince. While it’s still early days, she said the organization has already received positive feedback from plan members: one described intensive treatment as a game-changer for post-traumatic stress disorder, while another said it has helped them with the day-to-day challenge of maintaining sobriety. 

CINUP and EHN’s program also provides 12 hours of support for family members of individuals who are struggling with a mental-health challenge. “For an Indigenous person, family support is critical,” she said. “That could be their parents, it could be their family members, it could be a caregiver, . . . but that additional support is really critical.”

Vince also highlighted the importance of early intervention in preventing disability leave, absenteeism and reduced engagement.

Read more coverage of the 2023 Mental Health Summit.