Indigenous People and Mental Health: The Role of Law and Policy

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Indigenous Peoples, Mental Health, Systemic Discrimination, Critiques, Mental Health Services, Canada, Legal System


Mental health issues pose critical challenges for Canada's systems of justice and health care. Problems with mental health are common, but often neglected due to stigma and the vulnerability of those living with these conditions. This is evident within our legal system. Every day in our courts we see played out the struggle to protect the human rights and dignity of individual Canadians with mental health challenges, to access adequate mental health care and social support, and to provide genuinely helpful responses to criminal behaviour associated with mental health problems. Law and Mind: Mental Health Law and Policy in Canada provides a comprehensive analysis of the most important cases and key debates at the intersection of mental health law and policy.

Written by a group of Canada's leading experts on mental health law, this volume provides practitioners, researchers and policy-makers with valuable insight into this challenging and important area of the law.

Indigenous peoples are at risk for heightened levels of poor mental well-being. This is, in part, a product of historic and contemporary legal regimes which have induced and perpetuated cultural, psychological and material harms. In this chapter I first discuss data concerning Indigenous mental health, before turning to critiques about data collection and a description of Indigenous peoples' own understandings and experiences of mental health. Next, I expand on the Commission's point above, and explain how past and contemporary legal regimes are implicated in the mental well-being of current populations. I then present a case study, regarding how environmental assessment processes may be responsive to Indigenous mental health needs, and help address historic harms. The chapter next shifts to a close examination of Indigenous specific mental health services. These services are identified as under-funded, jurisdictionally fragmented, and partial. In the last substantive section of this chapter, I consider criminal justice issues, in particular, how the mental health of Indigenous accused or offenders is recognized in sentencing, correctional programming, forensic settings and release. I conclude that while there are promising practices, Indigenous peoples' mental well-being is poorly supported by current law and policy.