Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut October 03, 2014 - 9:17 am

Nunavut has suffered more than 50 child suicides since 1999, statistics show

Deaths of children under age 15 account for 11 per cent of Nunavut suicides

Staff from the Embrace Life Council and the Canadian Red Cross were hosting suicide prevention training in Cape Dorset last week. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BPEA MINISTRY)
Staff from the Embrace Life Council and the Canadian Red Cross were hosting suicide prevention training in Cape Dorset last week. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BPEA MINISTRY)

At least 51 Nunavut children have died by suicide since the territory was created, newly-released statistics from Nunavut’s chief coroner’s office reveal.

The numbers show that between 1999 and 2013, 50 Nunavummiut under the age of 15 took their own lives.

And those deaths make up 11 per cent of all suicides recorded in the territory since 1999.

In comparison, suicide deaths by youth under the age of 15 comprise less than one per cent of all suicides across Canada.

The numbers came to light after an 11-year-old boy died by suicide last week in the Baffin community of Cape Dorset, adding to the grim total.

The death has shaken the community of about 1,300 people, where the boy was a student at Peter Pitseolak school.

“Every death by suicide is a tragedy,” said Jenny Tierney, the executive director of Nunavut’s Embrace Life Council.

But this one hit close to home: Tierney and staff from the Embrace Life Council, along with the Canadian Red Cross, were hosting a suicide prevention training workshop for teachers at Peter Pitseolak school last week when the group got news of the boy’s death.

Cape Dorset’s teachers had to quickly put that training to use. Community health workers, counsellors, nurses and elders quickly came together to put a community response plan in place.

If one positive thing happened in Cape Dorset last week, it was a groundswell of support within the community.

“All of the agencies were there to support the community, the family and the school,” Tierney said. “Everyone pulled together to make sure the children and students had the support they needed.”

One of the first things the group did was take to the community radio to offer condolences to the boy’s family.

Tierney said counsellors also addressed the warning signs of suicide.

The Centre for Suicide Prevention’s toolkit on child suicide lists certain risk factors, which include untreated depression, self-injury, drug or alcohol abuse or conversation that touches on suicidal through or plans.

Another risk factor is having a family member who has died by suicide.

“We talked about the importance of coming together to support each other in a time of loss,” Tierney said. “And we told people to watch out in the coming week for friends and younger siblings.

“Yes, we can acknowledge that there was a suicide. It’s OK to be angry and to be sad and cry — that’s a normal reaction. But they’ve only lived a short period of time in their lives… and there is help and hope.”

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.

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