The First Nations Wellness Initiative: A Community-Driven Approach to Promoting Mental Wellness in the Context of the COVID‑19 Pandemic
Despite high rates of mental health and substance use (MHS) challenges in many First Nations due to the effects of colonialism, many existing programs designed to address these challenges are not culturally safe, wholistic or responsive to community-specific needs. The COVID‑19 pandemic is exacerbating these MHS challenges and First Nations communities are disproportionately affected, largely due to health and socio-economic disparities stemming from the enduring effects of colonialism. The need for community-driven strength-based mental wellness strategies is more urgent than ever. The First Nations Wellness Initiative (FNWI) is a collaborative model for developing community-driven, evidence-informed and community-based wellness strategies addressing age- and gender-specific MHS challenges in First Nations communities. The project aims to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic in two First Nations by implementing and enhancing the FNWI. Building on strong research partnerships with two First Nations, we will develop sustainable mental wellness strategies in both communities and disseminate knowledge to promote successful wellness strategies in other First Nations. Participatory Action Research will be used to develop strategies that are strengths based, culturally appropriate, built around community needs, and informed by previously collected qualitative and quantitative data. Wellness promotion, prevention of MHS challenges, and community and individual interventions will use community-driven methods that are informed by local data and draw on strengths and resilience resources within the communities. The team will evaluate the strategies and their outcomes and disseminate best practice knowledge from the strategies regionally, provincially and nationally. This collaborative community-driven research-to-action initiative will result in sustainable, culturally safe and wholistic wellness strategies developed by and for First Nations during the current pandemic.