Mental health support still lacking in Faro, Yukon, says mayor

Jack Bowers is the mayor of Faro, Yukon. Two years after 2 residents were killed by a gunman, Bowers says his community is still without adequate mental health supports. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

‘Social workers and mental health workers. We have neither at this point in time,” said Mayor Jack Bowers

The mayor of Faro, Yukon, is urging the territorial government to address the lack of adequate mental health supports being provided to his community.

This comes at the two-year anniversary of a fatal shooting in the small community that left two people dead, and one person injured.

“We were promised help right off the bat,” Mayor Jack Bowers told CBC News.

“For a short while help was here, but the reality is there’s such a shortage of health care workers, including social workers and mental health workers. We have neither at this point in time.”

In the Town of Faro’s October newsletter, Bowers wrote that the mental health worker that had been serving Faro left the job after being compelled to also serve more communities than agreed to.

Bowers said the only mental health support that is now provided to residents is from a social worker who travels from Whitehorse once or twice a month, for a day or so.

“We understand why but it doesn’t make it easier for sure,” he said.

Community seeking support 

The mayor believes the lack of a counsellor or support worker is having an impact on residents, especially those who are still traumatized from the shootings two years ago.

Bowers said this is resulting in community members stepping up to support each other.

“It’s often the health care nurse themselves,” he explained.

“It can be the pastor. It can be teachers, or friends. Even the RCMP are in many cases working as counsellors and helping those that are in difficulty trying to cope in a better way.”

Bowers said until more professional help is available, they’ll have to do what they can to keep residents supported.

He said it’s also what the two deceased victims of the 2021 shootings in Faro — Saengduean Honchaiyaphum and Patrick McCracken — would have wanted.

“Pat and Sang would both want us to continue to be supportive of one another and to help where we can,” he said. “In honour of their memory, that’s what we intend to do.”

Staffing gaps, government says

Cameron Grandy, director of mental wellness and substance use for the Yukon Government, said normally there are two counsellors who serve the communities of Ross River and Faro.

He explained to CBC News that typically they make trips to the communities every two weeks unless there are more calls for support — then they’ll make the trip weekly.

Cameron Grandy is Yukon’s director of mental wellness and substance use services. (George Maratos/CBC)

Grandy said there is also a mental health nurse who normally goes to Faro once a month.

He acknowledged that there are staffing gaps that his department is looking into.

In the meantime, Grandy said residents of Faro have other ways to access mental health supports.

“We’ve also been offering pretty rapid-access virtual services, and in-person services through Whitehorse,” he said.

“Faro has seemed to take to the rapid-access phone and video counselling services.”

Grandy said it’s important for all residents of Faro, and all Yukoners, to know that there is always a number to call if mental health support is needed.

“If they call 1-866-456-3838, they can get connected to a counsellor through mental wellness and substance use,” he said. “I do understand people want to reach out for the service and I just hope that they do.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Mental health in Arctic Canada – Can community programs make the difference?, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Climate change worries Finland’s young reindeer herders, Yle News

United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre is a CBC reporter in Dawson City, Yukon.

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