Embrace Life says suicide causing a “crisis situation” in Nunavut
Suicide prevention group calls for real government action, not just an action plan
The Embrace Life Council wants less talk and more action from the Government of Nunavut to help stop an epidemic of suicides that the not-for-profit suicide prevention group says has put the territory into a “crisis situation.”
That’s the message from Embrace Life executive director Jenny Tierney in light of the recording breaking year for deaths by suicide in Nunavut — 45 — in 2013.
“What we could really use right now is leadership and commitment from the GN to address this issue, to know that it’s a priority. It’s one thing to say that an issue is a priority, it’s another thing to put it into action,” Tierney said.
Nunavut’s suicide prevention strategy and action plan, which kicked into gear Sept. 2011, is set to expire March, 2014. Tierney wants that plan to be renewed.
The action plan committed to building or buying mental health facilities, and hiring and training mental health workers by 2014.
Now, Tierney wants a formal announcement to develop a further five-year action plan to continue these goals.
“And with that, we’ll have an evaluation of the last years — what works, what didn’t work,” Tierney said.
The Government of Nunavut’s executive director of mental health and addictions, Lynn Ryan MacKenzie, admits a lot of work still must be done to address suicide in Nunavut.
As for the suicide prevention strategy and action plan, MacKenzie said she “anticipates that it will be renewed.”
That would be welcome news for Tierney.
She said mental health resources such as councillors and facilities are still desperately needed to deal with suicide and mental health issues.
“Things will get better, but we need to recognize right now we are in a crisis situation,” Tierney said.
“We don’t have enough staff to address these issues. We don’t have the facilities in place in the territory in order to ensure Nunavummiut can receive services in the territory,” she said.
“And if they do go outside the territory for treatment, do we have the support in place for them and their families when they come back to their home communities?
“We can definitely say we don’t have that across the territory,” Tierney said. “We need it yesterday.”
Right now, the GN relies on Embrace Life to carry the brunt of the work when it comes to suicide prevention.
“They have a number of initiatives that the GN’s funding,” Ryan MacKenzie said.
The GN covers Embrace Life’s budget of $577,000, which comes from the Department of Health.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has supported the ELC with $20,000, and Tierney said she’s received money from the RCMP and the Department of Culture and Heritage, too.
“The formation of Embrace Life is a big accomplishment,” Ryan MacKenzie said.
“It really is an organization that allows us to move quickly on a lot of things that non-profits are much more nimble in some ways to take action,” she said.
But sometimes it’s hard to move with such a small staff, Tierney said.
“[We’re] doing as much as we can, as a small organization with two staff members,” Tierney said.
“We’ve been producing a lot coming out of our office, but we really need to see some more leadership,” she said.
Tierney thinks that leadership should not just come from the GN, but from “Inuit organizations within the territory.”
Ryan MacKenzie said it’s also up to individuals to help address the issue of suicide.
“Communities working together is about individuals. And there’s things that we can all do as we are touched by this ongoing issue of suicide, because it does touch everyone in Nunavut,” Ryan MacKenzie said.
“People can take ASIST training. They can volunteer in local programming. They can work with others in their community to develop positive activities for young people. They can take ideas that they have to their local wellness committee who has funding to help get programming going,” she said.
“Many of the things that need to be done to reach out and support individual people in the territory are really best done in the community.”
Tierney said in 2014, Embrace Life will launch an addictions and abuse campaign, much like the bullying campaign it launched in 2013.
The campaign is based on results found in a follow-back study released by Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University about suicide in Nunavut.
“We’re hoping to see us addressing the issues that we saw in the follow-back study in some of the risk factors contributing to suicide in the territory,” Tierney said.
Nunavummiut who struggle with suicidal thoughts may contact the Kamatsiaqtut help line in Iqaluit at (867) 979-3333 or toll-free at 1(800) 265-3333, from 7 p.m. to midnight.