Oral Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Sámi Norwegian Advisory Unit for Mental Health and Substance Use (#98)

Gunn Heatta 1
  1. Sámi Norwegian Advisory Unit for Mental Health and Substance Use, Hammerfest, Norway

The indigenous Sámi people have a history of supression, economical exploitation, humiliation, ridicule and forced assimilation. However, compared to other aboriginal peoples and first Nations, the Sámi history is not that violent. Today most Sámi have a satisfying health and economical situation. The main threat is the extinction of Sami languages and culture.


The Sámi Norwegian Advisory Unit for Mental Health and Substance Use (SANKS) have been established to achieve the overall objective of providing equal health services to the Sámi population across geographical, linguistic and cultural boundaries. SANKS main tasks are clinical services, teaching and counselling, research and development, education and training for specialists and students.


SANKS has developed two treatment methods especially adapted for Sámi patients, meahcceterapiija (wilderness therapy[1]) and Sámi milieu therapy based on nature and Sami values and norms. Wilderness therapy utilizes by the Family ward. They bring families to outlying land for two or three days. They are living in lavvo[2] or cottages, doing different activities together while they are talking, for instance talking about the family history around the fire.


The inpatient ward for Adolescents base their milieu therapy on five central Sámi values. For instance the value of “luondo eallin[3]” where they follow activities throughout the year, for instance reindeer slaughtering and building snow caves for survival in wintertime. The focus is on empowerment and the healing of being out in the nature.


We are now establishing a holistic institution[4] – one door in - for mental health care, substance use, somatic health and rehabilitation targeting the Sámi population. Highly ambulant interdisciplinary team are also consider as a good way of reaching patients regardless of their geographical location. This could also lead to better cooperation with partners in municipalities covered by the services and preventing hospitalizations and contribute to discharging patients more quickly after hospital stays.



[1] Using outlying land

[2] Sámi tent

[3] Living in harmony with nature

[4] Sámi dearvvašvuođa siida