Big River FN launches mental health app
Source: Shellbrook Chronicle & Spiritwood Herald by Jordan Twiss

A first-of-its-kind app is hoping to break down bar- riers and improve community connections when it comes to health, mental health, and addictions ser- vices in First Nations communities.

Developed by TryCycle Data Solutions in consulta- tion with the Big River First Nation, and supported by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), the Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans As- sociation (SFNVA), and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), the app, called TryCycle, was officially launched for Android and Apple devices at the end of May.

And though the app has actually been in use on the Big River First Nation and in more than a dozen other Saskatchewan First Nations communities since April, Michelle Bill-Dreaver, economic development officer with the Big River First Nation, says it has been a long time in the making.

“It’s been about 12 years from the idea itself,” she said, adding that the Big River First Nation was ap- proached because of its success with Know Your Status, a now globally recognized, Indigenous-led program that aims to lower HIV and Hepatitis C transmission and connect those who are HIV or Hep- atitis C positive.

“With limited resources and trying to stay connect- ed with our current clients within the healthcare sys- tem, it’s a barrier in healthcare. We’re always trying to look for ways to improve the system through a First Nations-led approach to these barriers,” she added.

TryCycle’s decade-long development required a lot of back-and-forth discussion and consultation, al- ways with the aim of making the First Nations influ- ence a central part of the app. Key pieces of this are in the app’s incorporation of traditional medicine and healing practices, alongside existing medical services and supports, and its availability in both the Cree and English languages.

Bill-Dreaver says the language feature was vital, as there are still many Cree speakers within the com- munity and the app needed to be as accessible as pos- sible. Just as important, though, was the retention and promotion of the Cree language — something that has become a priority among Indigenous com- munities, many of which have seen their languages slowly disappear over the years.

“We just tried to make it more accessible for people and easier to use for our clients,” Bill-Dreaver said.

Calling TryCycle a “digital tether” between the community and local healthcare professionals, Bill-Dreaver says the app is “very user-friendly” and is currently designed to focus on mental health and ad- dictions (though, further functions and Indigenous languages may be introduced in the future).

In order to access TryCycle, prospective users must have an account and temporary password created for them by their healthcare providers. Once in the app, users are able to perform 90-second check-ins, answer questions about their mental health or addic- tions status, and engage with healthcare providers, who can encourage them to seek in-person treatment if they feel the matter is urgent.

“It’s a tethered connection, back-and-forth, so that the client feels more inclined be a part of this process because they know that there’s someone on the other end who cares about them,” Bill-Dreaver said.

Looking forward, Bill-Dreaver says the short-term hope is that the app can help members of the Big River First Nation heal, and also improve healthcare services within the community.

In the long-term, though, she believes it has the capability to save lives and make a lasting difference in First Nations communities.

“It’s also about data sovereignty and figuring out how to use this data to better help our community going forward in terms of health and community development,” she said. “With the statistics of suicides on reserves, initiatives like this are really key in ad- dressing that.”

While fully accurate numbers are difficult to gather, Suicide and self-inflicted injury is the leading cause of death among First Nation youth aged 15-24.

Indeed, Health Canada data from 2010 found that the suicide rate for First Nations male youth, aged 15- 24, is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous male youth. For First Nations fe- male youth, the suicide rate is 35 per 100,000, com- pared to just 5 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous female youth.

Original article is available for download.