Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit April 10, 2018 - 7:59 am

Suicide of young Iqaluit man sparks calls for better mental health services

"All suicides are preventable, but not when there’s a 3-4 month wait list for counselling"

The late Nanauq Kusugak in 2013, entertaining an audience in Iqaluit at a Mahaha comedy night. The well-liked young man from Iqaluit died by suicide last week, prompting more calls for better mental health services in the territory. (FILE PHOTO)
The late Nanauq Kusugak in 2013, entertaining an audience in Iqaluit at a Mahaha comedy night. The well-liked young man from Iqaluit died by suicide last week, prompting more calls for better mental health services in the territory. (FILE PHOTO)


Many in Iqaluit are asking for more mental health services after the recent death by suicide of a well-liked young man, described as wonderful, lovely, funny and friendly by the city’s mayor.

Nanauq Kusugak, who was in his early 30s, grew up in Iqaluit. Last year, he worked at the quality of life secretariat, the Government of Nunavut’s lead organization on suicide prevention, and leading up to last November’s territorial election, he served as the campaign manager and financial agent MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone, who represents the riding of Iqaluit-Manirajak.

But among many in Nunavut’s capital, Kusugak was best known as a side-splitting comic who performed on the Mahaha comedy stage.

Kusugak was also upfront about his bouts of depression. One of his last posts on Twitter was a retweet of the following sentence: “Honk if you’ve been in a deep depression since childhood and sometimes you wonder if there’s no escaping the nightmare that is yourself.”

On Twitter, members of the Iqaluit band The Jerry Cans said Kusugak never shied away from tough conversations.

But there is little systemic support for mental health needs in Nunavut, they said, and while family and friends are important, they can’t replace effective therapy, counselling and Inuit and northern mental health workers.

Many of Kusugak’s friends in Iqaluit said they weren’t up to speaking, but one, who did not want their name published, told Nunatsiaq News that improved access to mental health professionals is just part of suicide prevention, because society doesn’t seem to encourage engagement about mental health issues.

“It’s one thing to have access to professionals. It’s another to actually be able to talk to anyone about it,” he said.

“Every suicide is tragic,” said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern, stopping for a moment in the interview to collect herself before going on.

Redfern, along with other community members, said Kusugak’s death once again points to the need for more mental health support—not just in Iqaluit but throughout Nunavut. Poverty, high food insecurity and inadequate housing must also be addressed, she said.

While Iqaluit, as the centre of government, may appear prosperous, some 16 per cent of its 8,000 residents are poor, Redfern said, and even those who are better off bear the burden of anxiety, depression, discrimination and the legacy of past trauma.

So there are still a number of people who are always at risk, Redfern said.

Redfern, who is also president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, said communities throughout the territory need an addictions treatment centre and more facilities providing mental health care.

Kusugak’s friends also say they hope the federal government will step up.

Many learned about his death during a meeting with Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, last Thursday in Iqaluit.

During the community consultation, one participant had just made a statement to Bennett in which she spoke about the need to re-embrace Inuit men who are struggling.

“Inuit participants and others gathered in the room showed support for her statement, though it may have seemed out of place to the minister and her staff in a consultation with those involved in the arts,” said Janet Brewster during a long Facebook discussion on April 8.

“We had no idea of the hurt and sadness that lay ahead as we all struggle in our own way to cope with our loss of this beautiful man,” she said.

Brewster left the meeting with Bennett without explaining why so many were scrambling for the door.

“I wish I had stopped to say that ‘this is why I said what I did,’ and why I feel so overwhelmed when I have the opportunity to speak to someone like her. It’s real and it’s true,” said Brewster.

The year 2017 marked the lowest number of deaths by suicide that Nunavut had seen in a decade.

The Office of the Chief Coroner counted 25 suicides across the territory last year, down from 32 in 2016, and the lowest number in any given year since 2007 among Nunavut’s roughly 38,000 residents.

So far, this year, the Nunavut Coroner’s Office had investigated 11 deaths by suicide in Nunavut. Two of these deaths took place in April.

The memorial service for Kusugak takes place this Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Koojesse Room in the Frobisher Inn.

“All are welcome to celebrate and share stories of Nanauq, his humour, his big heart and his impact on this community he adored. He loved and was loved by so many people. Please keep him in your hearts and join us on Friday,” said the open notice on Iqaluit’s public service Facebook page.

If you feel distressed or have had thoughts of suicide, there is help available. Call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line to speak to someone in English or Inuktitut at 1-800-265-3333.


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(23) Comments:

#1. Posted by Ms.Tupak on April 10, 2018

Visiting one is one of the best ways to have someone talk over tea or coffee. Playing checkers or chess with someone who is lonely helps one and it’s better then a phone call. Seeing someone in person and saying “hi” lifts up anyone.
Seek those in your community that seem alone.
I understand to loose a child.

#2. Posted by you have to attempt on April 10, 2018

it does suck!! you have to attempt and get cops involved or the hospital in order to get an at earliest 2 weeks for a mental health worker but than yet again you have to wait longer for another appointment

#3. Posted by Haley on April 10, 2018

My heart goes out to his family <3

Nagligivagit <3 <3

#4. Posted by Jon on April 10, 2018

after years and years of talks about needing more mental health support, no action has been taken yet, but after very short months of talks about marijuana, already moving forward.  whats going on?? how much more important is marijuana than mental health needs? I hope there’s people out there that understand and realize this too that can do something about it.  I, myself, cant do anything about this but to just be aware of the mass amount of people who live day to day taking drugs.  how sad.

#5. Posted by Inuk Person on April 10, 2018

Nunavut is a death trap for many young people born/raised in the territory. They lie and rot at home with nothing to do and no one to talk to. There are fundamental issues that many Nunavut Inuit face and it starts from childhood and some of them are;

- Poor nutrition and hunger,
- Overcrowdedness,
- Sexual, mental, and physical abuse,
- Poor education,
- Lack of jobs and activities,
- No one to talk to/isolation,
- High standard of living,
- Unable to travel and see the world out there,
- Family issues (anger, mistreatment, etc.)

These young people are longing; to lighten their burden (take off childhood problems off their shoulder); eat well, and continue to be occupied meaningfully.

Children go to school aimlessly because they’ve been going at it since the age of 5. If they had a sense of direction (prospect of attending post-secondary schools), then they could succeed in school.


#6. Posted by Inuk Person on April 10, 2018

Also, there’s lots of funding to do activities and start a business, but many people have no time write the proposals/reports.

If there was a society organization that could take teenagers to south to explore the city life and post-secondary options, these teenagers could be exposed to such things and have something to look forward to after high school.

For far too long, our young people have been stuck in this rut, we need to start doing something, perhaps start with talking to them. Also by eradicating drugs and alcohol, which is unnecessary spending of money that could’ve been used to buy food.

We need to start investing in our young people so Nunavut could have a better future. Otherwise, it will continue to be in the same situation for the generations to come.

Seek help young people and look at a brighter future!

#7. Posted by Alice in wonder on April 10, 2018

I highly agree with #1.I can tell that this person went through the same thing I did and many had gone through. It hurts, it breaks your heart to pieces. I had a daughter , beautiful friendly funny always smiling. but found out later after her death, that some or lots of them do pretend that everything is fine, so that nobody suspect anything. Those who commits suicide are there own fault. We all have a choice of our own, either to live or die. When life is too hard, no one to talk to, you fight this struggle. Don’t give-up! Fight for your life! Problems do past in time. Aakuluuvusi ilairsimajusi! Talk about how you feel. Pray for strength.

#8. Posted by Mary Symatita Alainga-Fraser on April 10, 2018

I would like to say that I am sorry to hear about another suicide, which could have been prevented. Instead of sending monies all over the world, the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT Health Canada should put monies into the Mental Health field of all Aboriginal communities!!! So sick of Canada sending monies overseas when their own people are suffering!!! I dare Justin Trudeau to do something about this. I know, I am dreaming, but a dream can come true if you sound it out like a broken record, which we all have been doing - still playing it. The Social policy department at NTI should be looking to talk with their partners in this field! They did sign an agreement after all!

#9. Posted by Marjorey Dwornick on April 10, 2018

I worked in Iqaluit for over seven years, volunteered on the Help Line, worked hard on a committee to develop a “made in Nunavut” training program for Mental Health Workers.  There were conferences and meetings and awareness programs and still the suicides continue. The Federal Government recently signed an agreement with all the provinces and territories that set aside special funding for Mental Health Services.  How is that money being spent in Nunavut?  Mental Health needs are not being met in Southern Canada either and we face long wait lists for every service. There needs to be some new thinking on how to address the issues as there is no single cause for suicidal behaviour.

#10. Posted by Arctic Dove on April 10, 2018

We need to change our mindset from the dark ages to the right ages. Transform to a new people.

#11. Posted by Another angle on April 10, 2018

I completely agree with number 9. I lived in Iqaluit for 10 years and now live down south. Suicide is a problem here as well as is access to mental health services. Instead of blaming the federal government it is time for nunavumiut to stand together and implement something tangible with the money the Feds have already signed off for Nunavut. The answers will come from within

#12. Posted by We have a Minister on April 10, 2018

We have a Minister appointed to prevent suicides in Nunavut and a ADM, what are they doing ? Don’t they see the need for more mental health workers to address the issue? Everyone is looking after there best interest 😭😭😭😭 And no one cares. Another life ended .

#13. Posted by Spark Arrester on April 11, 2018

That flint is wearing out. (Hey “we have a Minister”, maybe you could volunteer to give the Minister a break on the crisis line.)

#14. Posted by Some thoughts on April 11, 2018

#7 There’s a few things about your comment I’m not comfortable with.

One is you saying “Those who commits suicide are there own fault”.

It’s not entirely wrong, but suicide is also a lot more complicated than that. Asking people to fight and not give up has a nice emotional ring to it, but by the point people are serious about ending their lives the fight is over, people feel defeated, lost…

And praying for strength. That’s about the most useless thing one could do.

#15. Posted by passive aggressive not helpful on April 11, 2018

#7 Typical passive aggressive attitude.  Blame and encouragement.  “Not what can I do to help to prevent”, but expect the weak to fix their own troubles.  No, you are not with compassion, concern, or a part of society who will help make a difference in the lives of many who are in need of unconditional love, encouragement, and supports during times of mental and emotional challenges.

#16. Posted by <3 on April 11, 2018

Seek help if you’re feeling this way. There are people out there that care and are willing to help. No matter what situation you’re going through, sunaluktaa anigusuuq. I know how hard it is to ask for help, especially being a stubborn person. One cry for help can save your life. <3 We are here if you need a shoulder to cry on or to listen to your troubles. Find one person you trust to tell all your feelings.


#17. Posted by Anonynorth on April 11, 2018

#16 <3<3<3<3<3 nakumii <3

#18. Posted by olaf on April 11, 2018

Suicide is the least talked about issue in Iqaluit, who sadly enough, holds the record for the highest number of deaths since 1999.

It now stands around 118 deaths from Suicide here.

Do we talk about it?  No
Do we come together to find ways to intervene? No
Do we focus on the contributing factors? No
Do we care about this waste of precious life?  ___?

#19. Posted by Oh Dear on April 11, 2018

#16, I believe the concern is that there are systemic barriers that prevent Nunavummiut, and to be honest most people in the world, from accessing tangible assistance. Through the public system - in Iqaluit, for example -, it is very difficult to get an appointment with a psychiatrist: you have to wait weeks for an appointment that provides you with a referral to the mental health clinic; once referrred, you wai tip to three months; the mental health clinic is only offered once a month; rapid access does not allow you to come in for mental health related concerns; emergency clinic only provides mental health support when/if you are suicidal or experiencing in that moment suicide ideation. Privately, it is difficult to access the few, excellent private mental health service providers - due to the obviously high demand - that are available in person in Nunavut. Help lines are available, but it is difficult to place such a sensitive level of trust without f2f access.

#20. Posted by Wondering Iqaluit. on April 12, 2018

#5, Hi Inuk person,
I really liked your comment, I feel that too many Inuit people are
placing too much on old ways, instead of looking to the future!
  So many young adults and teenagers feel trapped in their own
communities with a sad lifestyle, and unhappy consequences.
Would things be better if we all stayed in a large township with
railroad access to the south. The southern Keewatin for example?

#21. Posted by Nope on April 12, 2018

#7:Your comment is what’s wrong with our society. Mental illness is painful, and in my opinion can be more painful than a physical ailment. I will never call a suicide a selfish act or one that is “their own fault”. People who are suicidal are suffering beyond belief. To me, it is selfish to Ask someone to continue to live through their pain and suffering so everyone around them can remain happy. And while I never think suicide is the answer I will always feel for those who have because they were obviously truly suffering with so much pain.
If someone is riddled with cancer and experiencing pain 24/7 with no relief and wanted to die, what would you say?

When will we stop stigmatizing mental illness. Start realizing how damn painful it is and stop blaming people for only wanting to escape their daily mental agony?

Let’s start showing some damn empathy to those who are struggling and stop pointer fingers at them. Mental illness is a sickness - treat it like one.

#22. Posted by Atii Change on April 14, 2018

Depression is an illness and we should be able to recieve treatment through tslk therapy or medicaations in a timely fashion.I have struggled throughout my life with depression as many have. I thi k it is important to note that not having reliable and consistent Mental Health workers just creates a more unhealthy atmosphere to those whom have already felt hopeless and alone. I pray for his soul and all those who have gone this way and whomever is contemplating. Unfortunatly , what it comes down to is finances and turn over of staff but regardless, saving Inuit lives is worth ever dollar because we just like Nanauq was are precious to this world and it makes me very sad that such a bright and wonderful man who was obviously involved in these discussions and passionate about change couldnt see it happen.

#23. Posted by Samantha Roach on April 14, 2018

This is truly heart breaking to read. Nanauq and I have the same mother, but never got the opportunity to meet. We managed to talk online for a bit: our sense of humour was spot on & we both struggled with alcoholism. I don’t think he ever reconnected it our mom but my heart sends love to his family ❤️ Rest In Peace Bro

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