MEDIA RELEASE: Indigenous wellness program launches in the London-Middlesex and St. Thomas-Elgin region
An innovative, collaborative program of St. Joseph’s and Atlohsa Family Healing Services is transforming the mental health care experience of Indigenous peoples.
LONDON, Ontario – It is with great excitement that St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s) and Atlohsa Family Healing Services (Atlohsa) announce a momentous and essential initiative for the Indigenous population in our region: the official launch of Biigajiiskaan (BEE-GAW-JEES-GAWN): Indigenous Pathways to Mental Wellness.
Indigenous peoples have experienced institutional trauma throughout the history of colonization, including within Canada’s Residential School System and Indian hospitals. These experiences have led to the loss of language, culture, a sense of safety and community. Still today, Indigenous community members continue to experience systemic racism and discrimination in institutions. Many are reluctant to go to hospital or access help from health care agencies.
“We know that the rate of mental illness and addictions among Indigenous people is more than double that of non-Indigenous individuals in Canada,” says Jodi Younger, Vice President of Patient Care and Quality at St. Joseph’s. “And suicide rates among Indigenous youths are five times higher. There is clearly an urgent need for culturally safe, Traditional Healing programs as an integral part of care.”
Together, in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, St. Joseph’s and Atlohsa have come together to help meet that demand by co-delivering a unique service delivery model supporting the Indigenous community. “We are so proud to be to working alongside our Indigenous health partners to address the need for institutional change, to support and enable the provision of culturally-safe services and to begin building additional care partnerships for the health of the Indigenous people we serve,” adds Younger.
Biigajiiskaan is a referral-based, mental wellness program that aims to provide accessible, culturally safe, specialized care for Indigenous people with serious mental illness, addictions and concurrent disorders. One important element of this relationship includes a dedicated Indigenous Healing Space, located at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute in the Mental Health Care Building, which provides the opportunity to combine Traditional Healing medicine and Indigenous elder-guided care and ceremony, with hospital-based health care practices and psychiatric treatment.
“Through this partnership, to the best of our ability, we are attempting to embody the true spirit and intent of the treaties and historical relationships that were originally intended to form between our Indigenous nations and the settler nations,” explains Raymond Deleary, Executive Director at Atlohsa. “What’s beautiful about this program approach is that neither partner is greater than the other; we each have gifts to offer to this service, but the Indigenous community is where the strengths lie to address Indigenous wellness overall.”
Biigajiiskaan services are available to inpatients, outpatients and community outreach clients of St. Joseph’s Mental Health Care Program, or by referral through Atlohsa to the Indigenous population in the London-Middlesex and St. Thomas-Elgin County regions. They include:
- An Indigenous-led mobile outreach team working in-hospital and in the community, providing consultation, assessment, treatment planning/management, discharge planning and ambulatory services
- The Okwari: Kowa Healing Space- a dedicated Indigenous Healing Space at Parkwood Institute’s Mental Health Care Building
- Indigenous Elder-guided care and teachings from knowledge keepers
- Traditional Indigenous practices, such as healing circles, ceremony, smudging and drumming circles
- Educational and mentoring opportunities for health care professionals and students
“All too often, Indigenous people do not see themselves reflected in the majority of society,” adds Deleary. “Being able to create a mutual space, in partnership with St. Joseph’s, where the Indigenous community is free to be themselves and experience care and services that are being led by their own community, creates a sense of hope.”
For more information, see Biigajiiskaan: Indigenous Pathways to Mental Wellness.
St. Joseph’s Health Care London
Office: 519.646.6100 ext. 47788
Cell: 519 200-9689
Atlohsa Family Healing Services
Office: 519-438-0068 ext. 807
About St. Joseph’s Health Care London
Renowned for compassionate care, St. Joseph’s Health Care London is a leading academic health care centre in Canada dedicated to helping people live to their fullest by minimizing the effects of injury, disease and disability through excellence in care, teaching and research. Through partnership with Lawson Health Research Institute and our collaborative engagement with other health care and academic partners, St. Joseph’s has become an international leader in the areas of: chronic disease management; medical imaging; specialized mental health care; rehabilitation and specialized geriatrics; and surgery. St. Joseph’s operates through a wide range of hospital, clinic and long-term and community based settings, including: St. Joseph’s Hospital; Parkwood Institute; Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care; and the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. For more information, visit St. Joseph's About Us.
About Atlohsa Family Healing Services
Atlohsa is a non-profit, charitable organization, dedicated to strengthening community through Indigenous-led programs and services that offer holistic healing and wellness. Atlohsa has been serving individuals and families across Southwestern Ontario for over 33 years providing low-barrier wraparound services to community members with complex needs, including mental wellness, substance use, homelessness, domestic violence, and trauma. We specialize in providing strengths-based healing and wellness supports, utilizing trauma-informed and harm reduction approaches. For more information, visit www.athlohsa.com.