It is a fact that suicide is a major social issue in Nunavut.

Statistics Canada indicates the suicide rate in Nunavut is more than five times the national average, according to 2018 figures, which show the Nunavut rate at 54.7 deaths per 100,000 people compared to the national rate of 10.3 per 100,000 people. There were a total of 21 deaths by suicide in Nunavut during 2018.

City of Iqaluit employees hoist a Bell Let’s Talk flag up in the Nunavut capital to promote Bell’s corporate initiative to highlight and provide support for mental health services across Canada in late January.
photo courtesy of the City of Iqaluit

What initiatives are being taken to combat, reduce or prevent suicide rates in the territory?
According to Kimberly Masson, associate deputy minister of the Quality of Life secretariat with the Department of Health, her department is providing a “buffet of mental health services” to Nunavummuit. This includes access to psychiatric nurses, clinical counsellors, traditional and elder counsellors and social workers.

Every community in Nunavut has a position for a mental health nurse, said Masson, adding this was not the case 20 years ago. There has been an increase in both mental health and professional supports, she emphasized.

Programming around protective factors like: cultural continuity, social equity, family strength, strong and healthy child development, mental wellness and an ability to cope with acute stress, has also increased.

“We work on programming that’s going to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors,” explained Masson.

She highlighted the Our Children, Our Responsibility initiative as an example. It is a child sexual abuse prevention training resource that has been developed in the territory by and for Nunavummiut.

The goal is “so that we can reduce adverse childhood experiences with regard to sexual abuse.”

Other initiatives involve educating the public about harm reduction with alcohol and cannabis; implementing land-based addictions and trauma treatment; and providing Indigenous cultural competency training for professionals.

“I’ve seen the commitment and the effort and the dedication and momentum. I feel like there’s momentum and people are working together in order to reduce suicide in the territory with that lens. It’s a very focused effort.”

Masson explained the Quality of Life secretariat administers about $4 million in an annual Grants and Contribution program. This allows for community driven suicide prevention projects.

According to her, communities are utilizing the funds to improve the wellness of their own communities through elders and youth programs, therapeutic programs, parenting programs, men’s groups and support groups.

“The money was spent very early this year. We depleted the fund quickly, which is really good because people have learned about it and they’re utilizing it,” she said.

In 2017, the five-year plan known as the Inuusivut Anninaqtua Action Plan was created in partnership with the GN, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, RCMP and the Embrace Life Council. This is Nunavut’s third suicide prevention action plan, which outlines a list of initiatives.

Ninety per cent of the 145 actions within the action plan are either completed or on time and on track, pointed out Masson.

“We’re doing our best to provide services as quickly as we can. As well as we can. And appropriate services.”

Most recently the Dept. of Health has engaged in the Roots of Hope Project with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The aim is to provide Iqaluit with more support for suicide prevention.

Masson also mentioned there are plans to build a Nunavut Recovery Centre facility in Iqaluit. It will provide treatment in Nunavut for addictions and trauma.

“There’s just so many spokes to the wheel of the work that’s being done,” said Masson.
“There’s a number of initiatives and I think just being open and transparent and talking about it as an issue is an important piece.”

She also expressed the importance of de-stigmatizing accessing mental health resources and helping empower people to view mental health as simply health.

Masson encourages those who need help to reach out to community resources, elders, health centre facilities and wellness centres.

Padma Suramala, who served as Nunavut’s Chief Coroner, called for an inquest into the high rate of suicide in the territory, after many died by suicide in 2013.

According to Statistics Canada, 41 died by suicide in Nunavut in 2013.

Nunavut News reached out to both Embrace Life Council and NTI to inquire about their thoughts on GN’s role for suicide prevention. Embrace Life Council declined an interview at this time. NTI did not respond.

Both the Kamatsiaqtut Helpline at 1-8000-265-3333 or the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 are also available for support.

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Rajnesh Sharma

Rajnesh Sharma is a Canadian journalist, who has extensively travelled the world to experience various cultures. She has lived and worked internationally over the past decade, meeting and interviewing...