Mental Wellness and Substance Use

Note: The information and material here may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts of past abuse. Please contact the 24 Hour KUU-US Crisis Line at 1-800-588-8717 if you require emotional support.

What is Mental Wellness and Substance Use?

Mental Wellness means a lot more than the absence of mental illness – it takes in all areas of a person's life. Mental wellness is the presence of factors that promote and maintain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance.

Mental wellness and substance use are priorities for many BC First Nations. While challenges vary from community to community, there are certain key contributing factors. Some include:

• Colonization and assimilation
• Systemic discrimination and racism
• Child Apprehension
• Land dispossession
• Loss of tradition, language and culture
• The legacy of residential schools
• Intergenerational trauma and its effects

Communities have been working to address mental wellness and substance use issues and restore balance. The FNHA supports this wellness approach – and recognizes the rich and diverse assets within communities and regions and the many promising and successful practices undertaken to date.

Some of the factors that we know promote wellness in communities include:

• Self-governance
• Stewardship of ancestral lands
• Presence of cultural services
• Control of the education system
• Control of health services
• Control of emergency response services

Why is this important?

When it comes to mental wellness, BC First Nations deserve the best care and support services. That’s why FNHA works with communities to deliver programs and services - such as treatment centres, counselling and crisis lines - and with partners across the province to address service gaps. And change is happening. Wellness indicators continue to improve, showing the strength and resilience of First Nations and Aboriginal people.

Our vision is that all First Nations and Aboriginal people in BC, no matter where they live, are supported in achieving and maintaining mental wellness in ways that respects their customs, values and beliefs.

Policy on Mental Health and Wellness


The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has released a new policy outlining its vision for mental health and wellness a year after hosting its inaugural Mental Health and Wellness Summit, where FNHA first publicly shared the commitment at the core of the new Policy. Through the Policy FNHA has committed to working with partners to ensure access to a comprehensive continuum of mental health and wellness approaches. The Mental Health and Wellness Policy will support the FNHA, First Nations, and health system partners to plan for mental health and wellness from First Nations perspectives.

"We heard from our communities that a system-wide paradigm shift is needed to support the ongoing wellness, self-determination and resilience of our Nations and families," says Joe Gallagher, FNHA CEO. "Bringing this policy to life will support increased self-determination of First Nations and transform approaches towards mental health and wellness throughout BC."

First Nations communities, families and individuals in BC have clearly and consistently indicated that mental health and wellness is a top priority. To address this, the new policy was created, informed by both the First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness, and extensive engagement with First Nations people and communities.

Read the Mental Health and Wellness Policy here.:

FNHA's Policy on Mental Health and Wellness (PDF 1.18 MB)

Mental Health Counselling Services

The Health Benefits program offers coverage for mental health counselling services. Read more about mental health benefits at


Mental Wellness and Addictions Resources for Communities

A Path Forward: Making Mental Wellness and Substance Use Prevention Yours


An important step in transforming the mental wellness of BC First Nations happened in 2013. That's when the First Nations Health Authority, the BC Ministry of Health, Health Canada, the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, and the Metis Nation released A Path Forward: BC First Nations and Aboriginal People's Mental Wellness and Substance Use Ten Year Plan.

The first of its kind, the plan was designed in BC to better meet the needs of First Nations and Aboriginal people, from infants to Elders. The plan has triggered a coordinated effort to develop policies, mobilize resources and use best practices – and ensure people are served by efficient systems that honour the diversity of their customs, values and beliefs.

This community-driven plan will guide the actions of planners over the next 10 years. It aims to complement existing mental wellness and substance use initiatives - promising practices already in use in  First Nation and Aboriginal communities or in health authorities – and to encourage new initiatives.

Read the approach here via ISSUU. 
Download the approach here: FNHA MWSU plan PDF (1.93 mb)

Hope Help and Healing

As the Hope, Help, and Healing toolkit points out, suicide affects BC First Nations far more than other British Columbians. And suicide impacts some First Nations communities far more than others.

It was a health director who was struggling with a number of recent suicides in the community that inspired the Tripartite Working Group on Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention (PIP) to create a toolkit. Although immediate support was available to communities, there was a lack of resources about suicide prevention and postvention. As the health director said, "What supports are available to stop this from happening again?"  Collaboration with the FNHDA and the UBC Learning Circle, as well as online input, further demonstrated the need for a resource of this kind.

During the development of the Hope, Help and Healing toolkit, input and direction were sought from five First Nations communities:

1. Cowichan Tribes at Duncan in the Vancouver Island Region
2. Three Corners Health Society at Williams Lake in the Interior Region
3. Skidegate Health Centre at Haida Gwaii in the Northern Region
4. Southern Stl'atl'imx at Pemberton in the Vancouver Coastal Region
5. Sts'Ailes First Nation near Mission in the Fraser Region

Hope, Help, and Healing intends to support planning efforts at the community, tribal council, Nation-based, and sub-regional levels

Download the Hope, Help and Healing toolkit here (PDF 2.38 MB)

Other Helpful Resources

KUU-US Crisis Line Society 1-800-KUU-US17 (1-800-588-8717)

First Nations and Aboriginal specific crisis line available 24/7, regardless of where individuals reside in BC.

KUU-US services are for First Nations, by First Nations and all crisis response personnel are certified and trained in Indigenous cultural safety and therefore bring an understanding of First Nations history and trauma from the residential school to their roles. Last year, KUU-US helped over 10,000 individuals with mental health issues and crises related to residential school, child welfare, addiction, health concerns, divorce/separation, suicide ideation/survivorship, grief/loss, crime, abuse, peer pressure and financial distress.

Toll-free: 1-800-588-8717 - Youth Line: 250-723-2040 - Adult Line: 250-723-4050.

Download a KUU-US information poster here (2.08 MB PDF)


Download a KUU-US poster here (PDF 124 KB)


If you are in distress or are worried about someone in distress who may hurt themselves, call SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal.

Answered by staff 24/7. Available throughout Canada and US.

Youth in BC

Visit for youth resources or chat with a counselor online. You can also call 1-866-661-3311 (toll-free in BC) 24 hours a day.

Trans Lifeline - 1-877-330-6366 -

Trans Lifeline is a non-profit dedicated to the well being of transgender people. We run a hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Trans Lifeline volunteers are ready to respond to whatever support needs members of our community might have. This is a FREE helpline run by volunteers and supported by the community.

Centre for Suicide Prevention

Visit for information, research and links to national distress websites.

310-6789 (no area code needed) Mental Health Information Line

Answered 24/7/365 it provides empowering emotional support, information on appropriate referral options and a wide range of support relating to mental health concerns.

See the Here to Help website for more information,

For a complete list of all crisis line numbers in BC go to:

Residential Treatment and Supportive Recovery Services In British Columbia

Treatment and supportive recovery services are live-in or bed-based substance use services that offer a range of programs and supports to help people who are looking to reduce or abstain from substances, and/or reduce harms associated with substance use. Programs can vary both in length, types of services offered, model of care and intensity of supports available.​ry_services_in_bc/

What to Expect in the Future

Moving forward FNHA, in consultation First Nations communities, is working to develop a Mental Health and Wellness Action Plan to guide actions over the next five years and beyond. 

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact Erika Mundel, Senior Policy Analyst:

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