Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 30, 2014 - 9:30 am

Nunavut corrections staff to receive mental health training

Awareness timely in light of prison watchdog report

DAVID MURPHY
Nunavut's Justice Minister Paul Okalik said corrections staff are currently receiving mental health training. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)
Nunavut's Justice Minister Paul Okalik said corrections staff are currently receiving mental health training. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Nunavut corrections and probation staff are getting a lesson in mental health this week.

Thirty-two corrections and probation officers will start a three-day training program today to help them recognize an assortment of mental health symptoms, Justice Minister Paul Okalik said in the Nunavut legislative assembly May 29

“Mental health first aid will give our correction and probation officers the skills needed to provide early help on an individual’s road to recovery,” Okalik said.

Okalik said that, historically, the department offered only suicide intervention training.

The mental health first aid program, which Okalik said is being held in Iqaluit and offered across Nunavut, trains officers on how to recognize symptoms of unstable mental health in inmates and colleagues, including depression, stress and suicide.

There’s a history of suicide at Baffin Correctional Centre, too — either inmates dying by suicide or attempting to take their own lives.

And the new program might be more important now than ever.

The federal Office of the Correctional Investigator found that conditions at Baffin Correctional Centre are “nothing short of appalling” in a 2013 report.

The federal prison watchdog’s report found that BCC is violates international human rights standards.

“Cells are overcrowded beyond acceptable standards of safe and humane custody,” the report said.

For the mental health first aid program, there’s also a “northern component.” 

The component will train the officers in “some unique factors that are present in northern communities” and how people in communities can help those in need.

This part of the training comes from many examples given by elders, Okalik said.

Okalik also reminded the house about the prevalence of mental health problems in Canada.

“One in three Canadians will experience mental health problems during their lives,” Okalik said.

“Like getting a cold or infection, mental health problems must be detected and treated early.”

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