To help stem wave of suicides, Nunavik gathering seeks to connect families with services
“We need to start talking about and to stop hiding sexual abuse”
Nunavik communities will create their own emergency plans to better respond to suicide crises in the region.
That was one commitment to come from a two-day meeting led by Nunavik’s school board, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 in Kuujjuaq, organized to respond to a recent wave of suicides among Inuit youth.
Roughly 60 people representing a number of regional organizations took part in the two-day gathering, including the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and its regional suicide prevention committee, Illusiliriniqmi Pugutjiutini Qimirruniq.
KI called the meeting last month after a wave of suicides reported in various communities. Many of those who died were youth who attended KI schools, and the school board said it felt overwhelmed trying to respond.
This week’s meeting aimed to identify response services in communities and to figure out how to better mobilize them.
“It quickly became clear that all this work—our community leaders didn’t really know that work had been done [on suicide prevention],”said Robert Watt, the president of KI.
“There was a disconnect around what was available to them.”
Each service provider and community may have a different approach to mental health treatment, but communities should each have an inventory of go-to support, Watt said—the same way people know to call the fire department to help put out a fire.
Representatives left the meeting tasked with helping their home communities craft their own emergency plans.
But Watt said there remains work to be done in Nunavik’s homes, individually and as families.
“One thing we highlighted was the need to start talking about and to stop hiding [cases of] sexual abuse,” he said. “That’s one of the major reasons that our people are killing themselves.”
One of the other recommendations to come from the meeting was to offer more support and treatment to victims of abuse.
Physical and sexual abuse are recognized as risk factors for suicide, based on previous studies done in Inuit Nunangat.
The 2004 Qanuippitaa? health survey found that one in five Nunavik adults reported being a victim of sexual abuse.
In another analysis, prepared by researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke health centre, three-quarters of coroner’s reports into suicides between 2000 and 2013 showed individuals could have been predisposed to suicide.
In about nine per cent of those cases, the individual had previously suffered some form of abuse or neglect.
And half of those reports suggested that those who died by suicide were having difficulty in their relationships with their partners before ending their lives.
“We realized a lot of these issues should be dealt with within families,” Watt said.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve taken that power away from families. They just need a change to engage each other.”
The regional suicide prevention committee also presented statistics on suicides in the region going back to the early 2000s.
Figures show that Nunavik’s rate of suicide has risen in the past decade and more acutely in the last two years, with 22 deaths by suicide reported in 2017.
That overall number is expected to be higher in 2018, though Quebec’s coroner’s office is still investigating many of this year’s deaths.
The committee is currently working to update Nunavik’s suicide prevention strategy, with an objective to secure the “commitment and cooperation of all regional organizations.”
Officials from Quebec’s Ministry of Health and secretariat of Indigenous affairs both attended the two-day meeting.
“I offer my utmost support to the population of Nunavik, and assure them of the government’s determination to work with the local organizations to seek solutions that are respectful of the Inuit and of their institutions,” said Sylvie D’Amours, Quebec’s minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, in a news release.
There is support available at the numbers listed below:
• Kamatsiaqtut Help Line: 1-800-265-3333 (Inuktitut, English)
• Residential school crisis line: 1-866-925-4419 (Inuktitut, English, French)
• Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or by text at 686868 (English, French)
• First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310 (English, French, Inuktitut upon request)
• Department of Inuit Values and Practices: 1-877-686-2845 (Inuktitut, English)