Boy, 11, becomes Nunavut’s latest suicide statistic

“There doesn’t seem to be a concentrated effort to tackle this issue head on”

By SARAH ROGERS

People in Cape Dorset are mourning the loss of a young community member after an 11-year-old boy died by suicide this past weekend.

The Nunavut’s coroner’s office is investigating the death of the boy, who was one month shy of his 12th birthday at the time of his death.

Jack Anawak, a former member of Parliament and Nunavut justice minister and mental health advocate, called the death “disturbing.”

“This is a real tragedy, when an 11-year-old dies by suicide,” he said. “We have to focus on the minds of our people. There seems to be a reluctance to get into this issue.”

The boy’s death is not the first instance of child suicide in Nunavut, he said.

In August 2013, a Repulse Bay boy who had just turned 11 killed himself, prompting calls for better mental health services and suicide prevention resources across the territory.

“There doesn’t seem to be a concentrated effort to tackle this issue head on,” Anawak said. “We need more counsellors, and more counsellors that people are comfortable talking to.

“But what are we going to do, focus on the Franklin expedition?”

According to Statistics Canada, 29 Canadian children between the ages of 10 and 14 died by suicide in 2011.

Globally, child suicide is not that rare and many suggest it’s on the rise, despite statistics showing the numbers are still relatively low.

Experts suggest this is due to under-reporting with child suicide, which is often reported instead as accidental.

Research has shown that by the age of eight or nine, children do have “a thorough understanding of suicide.”

They can intend to cause self-injury or death even though they don’t realize the full impact of their act, says current research cited in the Centre for Suicide Prevention’s toolkit on child suicide.

The centre lists the risk factors for child suicide, which include:

• multiple symptoms of depression;

• conversation that indicates suicidal thoughts or plans;

• untreated depression (“often manifested through aggression”);

• self-harm/self-injury;

• access to means of suicide;

• physical ailments;

• abuse of drugs or alcohol;

• exposure to violence or abuse; and,

• family history of psychiatric problems or a family member who has died by suicide.

“The majority of children who might experience symptoms of depression or other mental disorders do not receive adequate mental health services,” the centre says, so screening of these children needs to be a priority.

A 2011 report done by the Auditor General of Canada found that the Government of Nunavut is not doing enough to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The new Department of Family Services is now responsible for child welfare in Nunavut, and has promised to carry out an action plan in response to the auditor general’s findings.

The GN has not yet provided an immediate response to a request from Nunatsiaq News for the number of suicides recorded in the territory so far in 2014.

In Nunavut last year, a record number of Nunavummiut died by suicide — 45 people — prompting the territory’s chief coroner to call a public inquest.

As part of the public inquest, Nunavut’s chief coroner plans to examine three random cases in an effort to highlight risk factors and warning signs and raise public awareness about the issue. That is expected to occur before the end of 2014.

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.

(with files from Jane George)

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