After 25 years, help line may bring 24-7 crisis support online
Kamatsiaqtut Help Line looks at text-based online help for Nunavut and Nunavik
Soon you may be able to text the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line if you are in distress or feeling suicidal.
Already you can call the Iqaluit-based service 24-7, toll free from any telephone in Nunavik or Nunavut.
But in the United States, such text-based crisis lines are already in operation, one using the easy-to-remember number 741741, which runs down the left side of a telephone’s keypad.
Changes to Nunavut’s volunteer-run crisis-intervention hotline, which is now entering its 26th year of operation, have already brought expanded hours, range and a mandate that also includes providing information on HIV and AIDS — although its message remains the same: “when you need someone to talk to, we’re here to help.”
But “our response and toolbox must change with the time,” said Sheila Levy, who helped start the help line in 1989 and delivered the keynote address at Kamatsiaqtut’s annual fundraising gala March 28 in Iqaluit.
“I worry about the fact that we don’t get the number of calls we used to get,” she told more than 100 help-line supporters gathered at the Frobisher Inn.
Kamatsiaqtut is not alone in seeing a drop in calls as “telephones are not as important as the internet and other developments such as texting,” with studies showing teenagers — who often reach out to crisis intervention lines like Kamatsiaqtut — text about 2,000 times a month.
“As I am part of a Canadian coalition of help lines trying to get a national 1-800 suicide national line working across our nation, I have learned this phenomena is the same for distress/help crisis lines throughout Canada and perhaps the world,” Levy said at the fundraiser.
“As the winds of change blow across our territory we know we have to move with the times,” Levy said.
The help line celebrated Levy at its gala, which featured entertainment as well as prize draws, raffles and a silent auction. These, along with direct donations from the Rotary Club and the Legion, raised thousands of dollars for the volunteer group.
“Twenty five years marks a milestone for a volunteer group, just as it does for an individual,” Levy said as she recalled starting the help line in 1989 with a group of 14 other volunteers “in a cupboard” inside the former Arnakallak court house in Iqaluit.
Another of the original volunteers, longtime Iqaluit resident John Maurice, attended at the March 28 fundraiser, where he and Levy recalled going out in blizzards and holding hands as they made their way through storms to the call-line office to take calls.
While they sometimes felt as if they were saving lives, their goal, according to Levy, was to help “people in distress [who are] sometimes are feeling out of control, powerless.”
“We must do everything we can to help them feel they do have control over their life in some ways. When they call the line, they are showing some strength, they chose to pick up the phone, they can choose to end the call at any time. We want to have the callers feeling not only better but having a little more confidence in their power to handle they own lives.”
The Kamatsiaqtut Help Line began taking calls on Jan. 15, 1990, with trained volunteers on the other end of the line. Since then, its English name has changed twice: from the “Baffin Crisis Line” to the “Baffin Help Line” and to the “Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line” in 1999.
The trained volunteers — now numbering more than 100 — speak English. And many speak Inuktitut and French.
You can reach the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line at 1-867-979-3333 or, toll-free, from Nunavik or Nunavut, at 1-800-265-3333.