NEWS: Nunavut May 11, 2012 - 3:00 pm

New national mental health strategy can help Inuit: NTI’s Jack Anawak

"The treatment of mental health [problems] should be a priority"


Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.‘s vice-president Jack Anawak says Canada’s first mental health strategy, Canada Changing Directions, Changing Lives, will benefit Nunavut if its recommendations are followed through on.

The strategy, from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and released May 8, calls a spending increases of between seven and nine per cent of total health spending over a 10-year period to pay for mental health initiatives.

If that happens and the strategy’s top recommendations are acted on, Nunavut would certainly benefit, said Anawak, who contributed to the strategy.

“There’s a lot of great need for health professionals, people with the ability to intervene,” Anawak said, adding that the strategy offers “a good start to a healthy Nunavut.”

Mental health should be a priority in Nunavut, where there is a need for more treatment programs and treatment facilities, Anawak said.

“There is a very significant amount of trauma in young people and children of parents who went to residential school,” he said.

A lot of mental health problems are treatable, Anawak said, and more community programming would make a difference.

And “the stigma should be taken away from mental health,” he said.

Anawak said people need to ask “what’s bothering you” instead of condemning substance abusers because “drugs and alcohol are symptoms of mental health problems,” he said.

Drug and alcohol abuse can’t be treated alone: the root of the problem should be addressed, he said.

Often people don’t talk about sexual assault and other outcomes of mental health problems.  “We don’t address it because we don’t hear about it,” Anawak said.

In instances of spousal abuse, questions should be asked about what issues drove a person to the point of violence, Anawak said.

“The onus is upon the government, really” to help, he said, noting the shortage of mental health professionals in Nunavut.

But these professionals need to take the social and cultural differences between the North and South into account.

“There’s a difference between treating someone from downtown Toronto and treating someone from downtown Iqaluit,” he said.

Drawing on the knowledge of elders in conjunction with mental health professionals would also help, he said.

People also need to assess their own children and whether or not their behaviours are normal, Anawak said.

That way, there would be more opportunity to intervene before things get out of hand, he said.

“I really believe that the treatment of mental health [problems] should be a priority in Nunavut,” he said. “If there’s any kind of improvement in people getting better, then I’m sure there’d be an improvement of Inuit getting work.”

Anawak, who said he was happy to take part in the commission, said there’s no shame in talking about or seeking help for mental health illnesses.

“I don’t think we know the depths of the mental health illness that’s out there,” he said.