Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik May 20, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Need for mental health services in Nunavik urgent, says former leader

"We need a medical and counselling support system that works for us"

SARAH ROGERS
Quebec's health department said it's helped the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services hire at least six new professionals this year to help respond to a number of suicides in the region. (FILE PHOTO)
Quebec's health department said it's helped the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services hire at least six new professionals this year to help respond to a number of suicides in the region. (FILE PHOTO)

Inuit leader Mary Simon says she supports a recent call for emergency intervention to respond to a spate of suicides in Nunavik.

Since the end of December 2015, 11 Nunavimmiut have died by suicide — the vast majority of them in their teens and early twenties.

A campaign launched May 13 by Nunavik singer-songwriter Beatrice Deer pleaded with authorities to ask for provincial back-up.
“We feel helpless. We’ve never seen so much death by suicide,” Deer wrote. “You’re in a position to do something. We think it’s time to declare a state of emergency.”

Simon, who is from Kuujjuaq, agreed with Deer in a public statement May 19.

“We need mental health services that will address a holistic approach to mental wellness,” said Simon, a former president of Makivik Corp., Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Inuit Circumpolar Council.

“For those of us that have had, or have mental health issues, we need a medical and counselling support system that works for us, and is there for the long term. We need services that will diagnose the illness, treat the illness and a service that will provide support on an ongoing basis for us.

“The list goes on but it must be done.”

But Quebec’s department of health and social services said this week it has been attentive to the region’s needs and is prepared to offer more support if needed.

As per Quebec’s Public Health Act, an emergency can be declared when there is a threat to the public’s health due to a biological, chemical or physical threat, or when human resources are insufficient.

“In the specific case of Nunavik, additional resources have been deployed at the request of the [Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services] by the [province] to intervene significantly,” a Quebec health department official said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

“Professionals in the health and social services, as well as many partners (eg. education network) are mobilized into action to handle the situation.”

As of late April, the province says it’s helped the NRBHSS to hire two psychologists, a social worker, a psycho-educator, a clinical counsellor in crisis intervention as well as a bereavement counsellor — these in addition to other permanent health and social services staff.

In its statement, the health department added that suicide is a complex phenomenon, which requires authorities to respond with the “right tools” and “best practices.”

“Declaring a state of emergency on the current phenomenon would then require a flawless treatment of information to ensure there are no harmful effects,” the department said.

During a recent visit to Kuujjuaq, Quebec’s Aboriginal Affairs minister Geoff Kelley said his department respected the region’s wishes to respond to the situation in a way that respects Inuit culture.

“There is no one solution to the tragedy experienced here,” Kelley said May 4.

“However, I have observed that the stakeholders in the community are setting the groundwork for many promising solutions that will enable us to foster hope within the communities, making young people a priority, since they account for nearly half of the population.”

Nunavimmiut who are in need of support or have thoughts of suicide can call a number of toll-free numbers to speak to someone:

• Kamatsiaqtut Help Line 1-800-265-3333 (Inuktitut, English)

• Residential school crisis line 1-866-925-4419 (Inuktitut, English, French)

• Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868

• 1-866-APPELLE in Quebec (French)

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