Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit August 30, 2012 - 6:36 am

Nunavut’s Embrace Life Council to mark Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day

Council plans weekend of suicide prevention activities in Iqaluit

DAVID MURPHY

The Embrace Life Council’s executive director, Jenny Tierney, doesn’t want suicide to be a touchy subject anymore — she wants suicide to be open for discussion.

That’s why the Embrace Life Council is hosting its first major event next weekend in Iqaluit, from Sept. 8 to Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

The weekend’s schedule includes a barbeque, candle-light vigil and a workshop and concert with throat-boxer Nelson Tagoona.

Tagoona will be given a stage at the Francophone Centre to talk about his experiences in his life — and Tierney says it takes a strong person to do that.

“We’ve reached this point where we’re starting to talk about it in the territory,” Tierney said.

But suicide prevention requires more than just talking, she said.

“I’ve had experiences in my family where people have attempted suicide. At first, you’re initially shocked that this happened because we had no idea — we missed the signs,” she said. “So it really is about being educated to the signs of suicide behavior.”

Preparing for a territorial-wide suicide prevention campaign has occupied the council this past summer.

The council’s goal: to scale back the rate of suicide among Nunavummiut.

Last year was the second worst for suicide in Nunavut, with 33 people dying by suicide — the youngest being a 12-year-old boy. The highest number of suicide deaths, 37, was recorded in 2003.

So far in 2012, 18 people have committed suicide in Nunavut — if the rate remains consistent, 30 people will die by suicide by the end of the year.

“This is a topic that we cannot fix tomorrow. It’s going to take years and years,” she said.

This summer, the not-for-profit organization linked up with Kids Help Phone, Canada’s national 24/7 counselling call-in centre for distressed children and teens.

They have given the Embrace Life Council materials like specific cards for each community on who to contact to seek counselling. They also developed a a presentation tailored to Nunavut, which talks about suicide and where to go for help.

Tierney and the council have also been working their way through eight main commitments promised in the territory’s Suicide Action Plan, announced a year ago.

The plan promised more mental health and addictions services, culturally appropriate grief counselling and suicide intervention training, an expansion of the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut help line and a focus on teaching coping mechanisms to kids.

It also included more support for communities facing clusters of suicides and an ambitious program of suicide research, including statistics on suicide attempts, information that Nunavut has never collected before.

Some commitments remain behind schedule, but Tierney says progress has been made.

“Like the grief counselling proposal — originally it was supposed to have started in April, but we’re a bit behind schedule,” Tierney said.

To provide cultural and age appropriate grief counseling, the council been accumulating the best practices on youth programming used elsewhere in Canada, to determine what would work best in Nunavut.

But preparing for the World Suicide Prevention Day — or Embrace Life Day as it’s known in Nunavut — has been a main focus for a while now.

Tierney wants to build upon the marketing campaign started last May with the council’s television commercials and radio advertisements.

“It’s our way of letting the community know what exactly we’re doing, and letting them know we’re here,” said Tierney. “We really want to have those connections to the community.” 

For the full schedule of events for the weekend, click here

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