Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut March 25, 2012 - 7:00 am

Don’t be ashamed of getting help for depression: Inuit leader

“I feel better because I had the right kind of support”

Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Kanatami, pleads for more openness and attention to mental health problems among March 24 in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Kanatami, pleads for more openness and attention to mental health problems among March 24 in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

About 25 years ago Mary Simon, the current president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, started “to feel different,” as she plunged into a depression, sparked by an identity crisis.

Simon ended up in hospital where she received treatment for depression.

“I feel better because I had the right kind of support,” said Simon, who went on to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Council and serve as Canada’s ambassador to the Arctic and Denmark, before becoming president of the national Inuit organization six years ago.

That’s the story Simon shared at March 24’s fundraising event for the Kamatsiaqtut, Iqaluit’s volunteer-run help line.

In operation for 22 years, the volunteer-staffed help line remains open from 7 p.m. to midnight every day, so “when you need someone to talk to, there’s help on the line.”

Simon said she started to talk about her own bout with depression after her niece in Kuujjuaq committed suicide last year.

Inuit need to talk more about the mental health “crisis going on in our communities” to take away the shame of talking about their personal problems, she said.

And everyone — families, officials and volunteers, like those at Kamatsiaqtut — must mobilize to deal with mental health problems that plague northern communities, Simon said.

Nothing is more important than helping someone, but outside the larger communities of Nunavut and Nunavik, there’s not yet a lot of support available, she said.

The Kamatsiaqtut help line runs on about $100,000 a year, which includes some government funding.

But the majority of the help line’s money comes from community donations, such as the $1,500 given the organization by the Iqaluit Rotary club on March 24 and money from its annual $80-a-head gala banquet, with prize draws and a silent auction, which attracted about 200 people to Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn on March 24.

Each table’s centre piece featured a display of pocket-sized “suicide prevention resource cards.”

Paid for largely by the RCMP,  the new green and white cards list more than 20 numbers for 24-hour resources like the Government of Nunavut employee and family assistance line, community resources, hospitals and emergency mental health workers and churches, so that when people need help, they’ll know who they can call.

Five thousand of these cards have been printed up for distribution in Iqaluit.

The event, which featured entertainment from the Road to Nowhere band, throat singers Kathleen Merritt, Nancy Mike and singer Terrie Kusugak, also included the screening of Kusugak’s short video on suicide.

The video, called “The death of our youth” resulted from a high school social studies assignment, said Kusugak, who grew up in Rankin Inlet, but now lives in Iqaluit where her father, Lorne Kusugak, serves as Nunavut’s minister of Community Government and Services.

While most of Kusugak’s classmates decided to look at topical issues, such as hunger, to highlight the shortfalls in society, she decided to look a suicide — something Nunavut sees too much of, she said.

Thirty-three Nunavut residents, including a 12-year-old boy from Kugaaruk, died by suicide in 2011, the second-worst year in the territory’s history.

If you’re depressed and possibly suicidal, help is only a call away at (867) 979-3333 or 1-800-265-3333, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line’s toll-free number.

There you can find anonymous and confidential telephone counselling and contact service if you who need to talk about personal problems or are in crisis.

A bank of about 70 volunteers, who speak English, Inuktitut or French, answer the calls from 7 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

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