Grieving Nunavik community uses radio to talk about suicide

Kuujjuaq reeling from three deaths by suicide, including loss of young film actor


This week is national suicide prevention week across the country. The community of Kuujjuaq, pictured here, has lost three youth to suicide over the last six weeks. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

This week is national suicide prevention week across the country. The community of Kuujjuaq, pictured here, has lost three youth to suicide over the last six weeks. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

During a week dedicated to suicide prevention across the country, Nunavimmiut in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik’s largest community, and throughout the region, are mourning.

In addition to the Feb. 2 suicide death of Lukasi Forrest of Kuujjuaq, 18, an actor known for his role in the film Uvanga, there have been two other deaths by suicide in the community over the past six weeks.

Following the sudden loss of this well-known young man Feb. 2, people in Kuujjuaq took to local community radio to offer sympathy, words of support, stories of how they’ve survived and advice on how to move forward.

It was a dialogue fueled by grief and facilitated by the ease and familiarity of community radio.

And the discussions would have likely carried on for hours if not for a scheduled bingo broadcast.

“People were telling their own stories. It was a totally open dialogue forum,” said Olivia Ikey Duncan, a local youth leader.

“And that’s what I think we need right now. Everyone is raw and it’s fresh… we can’t hold back anymore.”

In the face of such intense loss and grief, Kuujjuamiut are looking for answers: some worry that the easy access to alcohol in Kuujjuaq puts youth at risk and they want the local co-operative store to stop selling beer and wine; some appear to place blame on those who decide to end their own lives; and others say suicides result from a lack of mental health care services in the region.

But while intense at times — and argumentative — such discussions are key to preventing future deaths, Ikey Duncan said.

“Once people understand they have this illness, mental health issues… once you have this community-to-community member healing, that’s where it starts,” said Ikey Duncan, who recently completed Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST.)

“I’m not a professional, but I’m just straight-up honest. And I think that’s what these kids need.”

In times of crisis, Ikey Duncan would like youth to have access to people — neighbours, friends and elders — who may not have had professional experience, but at least have personal experience with suicide.

On Feb. 3, Ikey Duncan was on her way over to Jaanimmarik high school with a list of community resources and contacts that she planned to deliver to students so they will know where to turn in times of need.

Ikey Duncan is also sharing a link to a mobile app that can be downloaded to an iPhone or Android device through the Lifeline website, which offers prevention support and guidance for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Nunavik has its own suicide prevention committee, the Ilusiliriniqmi Pigutjiutini Qimirruniq, whose members will meet in Feb. 22 to Feb. 23 in Kuujjuaq.

The group ran its first regional prevention conference in 2015, modelled after the Montreal-based Dialogue for Life, and trained 60 Nunavimmiut in ASIST.

More than 200 Nunavimmiut have now completed the training since 2014.

Suicide, as in Nunavut to the north, affects many in Nunavik: Between 2000 and 2011, 163 Nunavimmiut died by suicide, making it the second-highest cause of death in the region, just after cancer, leaving the region’s overall suicide rate slightly higher than Nunavut’s over the same 11-year period.

During National Suicide Prevention Week, which runs through Feb. 6, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services is distributing pins which say “You’re important to me” in Inuktitut, English and French. The agency is encouraging people to hand these out to friends and family.

“If you or someone you know needs help, don’t hesitate to ask for it,” the health board said in a Feb. 2 news release. “There’s someone willing to support you. Talk to a friend, someone close to you, a colleague, or a professional health care provider.”

Nunavimmiut can do that by calling their local CLSC health clinic at -9090.

For residents of Nunavik and Nunavut, support is available in both English and Inuktitut, 24 hours a day, by calling the Kamatsiaqtut help line at 1-800-265-3333.

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anywhere in Canada at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English-language support.

And French-speakers can call 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553.)

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