Nunavut suicide prevention action plan to be extended

Partners want to evaluate what’s happened so far


Nunavut’s Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan has been extended for another year.

A joint statement issued March 20 by the strategy’s partners — Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Government of Nunavut, the RCMP and the Embrace Life Council — says they are committed to continuing the action plan’s mandate which was released in 2011.

The release makes no mention of what that commitment means in terms of dollars.

Lynn Ryan MacKenzie, executive director mental health and addictions for the health department, said it’s difficult to talk about funding because it’s not a program, it’s a strategy that involves a concerted effort from multiple departments including education, justice and health.

“Everything the GN does is informed by this,” she said, explaining that the department of education, for example, is trying to find ways of incorporating suicide prevention strategies into the school curriculum.

In the past, as part of this action plan, the health department has covered the Embrace Life Council budget of $577,000 and NTI gave the council $20,000, but those are only two pieces of the larger puzzle, Ryan MacKenzie said.

When the action plan was released in 2011, then-health minister Tagak Curley said it contained about $1 million in new spending.

It also said that by 2014, the GN would develop a capital plan to build or buy mental health facilities and would hire and train more mental health workers.

Ryan MacKenzie said the GN has made progress in Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay and will continue examining ways to repurpose and renovate existing facilites to accommodate mental health services, rather than constructing new, expensive buildings.

The action plan contained eight commitments, including streamlining accessibility of mental health services, teaching youth how to cope with adverse events and supporting ongoing research to better understand both suicide and prevention strategies.

Roughly a year after it was released, the government responded to criticism that it was not moving quickly enough toward these and other goals to reduce the growing number of deaths by suicide in the territory.

At least one of the commitments has been carried out. Training in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training or ASIST workshops were held in several Nunavut communities including Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Cape Dorset and Arviat in 2013.

But it’s unclear what other concrete progress has been made in addressing and reducing suicide in Nunavut.

Ryan MacKenzie said evaluation of the action plan is the top priority this year. “Quite frankly, we need to look at what we’ve accomplished, what we need to work on, what we could be doing better,” she said.

The news release echoed that statement.

“There is no easy fix to this terrible crisis but NTI and our partners in this strategy know that we need additional time to evaluate the action plan, to learn from what was accomplished and to incorporate these important lessons into our work,” said NTI President Cathy Towtongie, in the release.

Monica Ell, Nunavut’s health minister, said in the release that suicide prevention is a priority for her government, and should be for all northerners. “It is critical that Nunavummiut struggling with depression and addiction also have the support and understanding of their families, friends and community leaders.”

Last year was the worst year for suicide deaths in Nunavut since the territory was created in 1999: there were 45.

Nunavut’s chief coroner has called a public inquest and plans to examine three random cases in an effort to highlight risk factors and warning signs and raise public awareness about the issue.

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