Some Nunavummiut are calling on the territorial government to pour equivalent resources into Nunavut’s suicide epidemic that have gone towards Covid-19.
To raise awareness, Alanna Copland is organizing peaceful protests across Nunavut communities on Friday. She’s also collecting names of those who have lost their lives to suicide as a memorial to them — she has identified close to 30 individuals so far. The plan is to leave the memorial at the legislative assembly as a powerful symbol to influence elected officials.
“It is meant to be a impactful statement to the GN to push for more mental health resources in the territory,” said Copland, who hails from Arviat but currently lives in Iqaluit. “I want the governments to make mental health a priority in Nunavut.”
Copland said she hears “constant” stories from people who are discouraged by the lack of mental health resources in the territory.
Some of the needed steps government should take, she said, would include supporting short-term and long-term plans crafted by organizations that aid in mental health and making them available to all Nunavummiut; preventing high burnout and turnover rates by bolstering front-line workers; and bringing back mental health programs in the territory that employ local workers and eliminate cultural and language barriers.
The GN, federal government and Nunavut Tunngavik have agreed to collaborate on an addictions and trauma recovery centre, to be based in Iqaluit, but that facility isn’t expected to be built for at least a few years.
“People are still being sent out of the territory because we don’t have any facilities in Nunavut. Hasn’t our people being removed from their homes for residential schools and TB sanatorium taught us anything? Nunavummiut should be able to heal at home, in their home territory,” Copland stated.
Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq helped spread word online of the Friday marches in advance of the events.
“Access to mental health services are truly a matter of life or death in Nunavut and we should be treating it that way,” Qaqqaq stated. “Grassroots and community-led initiatives are the best way for Nunavummiut to express their desire for change. After decades of being told that there wasn’t enough money to adequately support mental health services, Covid-19 is a good reminder of how quickly we can act given the political will. I look forward to continuing to support initiatives like Ms. Copland’s mental health marches.”
Copland credited Tiana Gordon for inspiring her by holding a suicide-awareness demonstration in Rankin Inlet on June 18.
“Too many people are leaving and gone already… it hurts to see and know people go this way,” Gordon said. “The Government of Nunavut needs to take the same steps they’ve been treating his coronavirus pandemic, the same way they spend money on beer and wine stores, ways to help our economy. They have the audacity to spend money this way, knowing all people are affected by suicide. There is not one person I know born and raised in Nunavut that is not affected.
“Shame on our Government of Nunavut for not taking this seriously. We have the highest suicide rate Canada and second in the world… I am only 23 years old and here I am begging and asking for mental help services. What kind of reality is this?”
All health matters ‘of equal importance,’ GN says
In a statement to Nunavut News, the Department of Health indicated that it “considers all matters related to public or individual health to be of equal importance, regardless of whether the risk is Covid-19, mental health or suicide.”
Spurred by the high rates of suicide, the GN established the Quality of Life Secretariat in 2015, to coordinate the implementation of the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy. The secretariat has distributed $3.5 million in funding during this fiscal year for various suicide-prevention initiatives.
The territorial government also stated that it has “a strong mental health and addictions program in place that is continuously being enhanced.” That program continues to provide front-line mental health services through community health centres, and mental health support at the local, regional, and territorial level, according to the department. Out-of-territory addictions or mental health treatment can also be arranged.
The department’s statement also noted that the National Inuit Committee on Health identified 11 social determinants of health that are critical to reduce the risk of suicide — mental wellness and availability of health service are only two of them. Others include food security, housing, education, and safety and security.
“To that end, it is the collective accountability of all organizations, communities, families, and individuals to reduce stigma associated with mental health, encourage education and understanding, and recognize potential warning signs and symptoms of mental health distress,” the department stated. “The Department of Health will continue to work to implement the Inuusivut Anninaqtuq Action Plan by providing funding and support for community-based suicide prevention initiatives, collaborating with the wide range of stakeholder groups and organizations responsible for reducing the risk of suicide in Nunavut, and providing clinical and culturally appropriate counselling support and mental health services to Nunavummiut in need.”