We’re “making progress” on suicide action plan, GN says

“Suicide is a multifaceted issue and it’s going to take everyone to get the numbers down”


The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Health and Social Services says it is “making progress” in rolling out its Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Speaking at a Feb. 1 press conference in Iqaluit, deputy health minister Peter Ma said the government’s strategy was going “as planned”, while its architects work out an action plan.

Ma was responding to concerns after reports that 2011 was one of the worst for suicide statistics in Nunavut: thirty-three Nunavut residents, including a 12-year-old boy from Kugaaruk, died by suicide last year, the second-worst year in the territory’s history.

Many now question how quickly Nunavut’s suicide prevention action plan, released last September, will respond to the issue.

Some of the action plan’s progress comes in the form of the Nunavut-taillored suicide intervention program called Uqaqatigiiluk (Talk About It), based on the widely-used Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program.

Ma said that ASIST training has already been offered in a handful of Nunavut communities, while health minister Keith Peterson and most of the department’s management have already completed training.

A commitment to have in place a referral service for children at risk of suicide by January 2012 has yet to come to fruition, Ma said, although Nunavut’s health and education departments continue to work towards the program.

Ma said a better update on the suicide strategy will come when the territorial budget comes down later this month.

That’s when the GN is expected to announce an addictions treatment pilot program along with the renovation of an existing Iqaluit building into a mental health treatment centre.

That should address frustrations from many Nunavummiut who say there isn’t sufficient support for people who are depressed and suicidal and need immediate help.

Ma said that there are mental health workers stationed in communities across the territory, although they are not permanent employees of the GN; their contracts are funded through a federal program that will run for another two years.

(As part of its suicide action plan, the government committed to develop a capital plan to build or buy facilities to be used for mental health work and a plan to hire and train more mental health workers by 2014.)

As for a rumour about two new GN-hired psychiatrists based in Iqaluit, Ma said he’s not aware of any new psychiatrists on staff.

Ma says the GN employs a Toronto-based psychiatrist, who used to work from Iqaluit but now provides long-distance consultations.

But those who hope to see an immediate drop in suicides across Nunavut this year will have to do their part, Ma said.

Addressing the issue and reducing the number of suicides in Nunavut will take the efforts of more than just government services, but also regional organizations, community and church groups, parents and teachers.

“[Suicide] is a multifaceted issue,” Ma said. “And it’s going to take everyone to get the numbers down.”

Ma said suicide is not particular to Nunavut, pointing to the federal government’s own efforts to create a national suicide strategy.

“In some ways, we’re ahead of other (jurisdictions) just having a strategy in place,” he said.

When asked if suicide was a uniquely Inuit epidemic in Nunavut, Ma said he hasn’t seen statistics based on ethnicity. But, Ma said, that shouldn’t change the action plan’s approach.

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