'This is an examination of what is wrong in our society.'

Suicide prevention group to tour Nunavut

By JIM BELL

All Nunavummiut will get a chance to talk about what they want from a proposed new suicide prevention strategy, during a round of community meetings to be held this spring.

A suicide prevention working group – with representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Government of Nunavut and the Isaksimagit Inuusirmi Katujjiqatigiit Embrace Life Council – will soon send four teams on a tour of Nunavut.

The teams will hold public meetings and talk to volunteer groups in communities. They hope to get this work wrapped up by June.

"It's our goal to go out to every single community so that every community will feel as if they were consulted and have a chance to participate in the development of this plan," Natan Obed of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. told Nunatsiaq News last week.

The community consultation tour follows the release last week of a dense discussion paper that calls for an "evidence-based" approach to suicide in Nunavut.

Relying on objective, scientific research, such an approach would try to figure out the social causes of suicidal behaviour and then figure out which methods of suicide prevention work best in Nunavut.

"Part of this process is hopefully an honest discussion about some of the problems of Nunavut. This is an examination, in many ways, of what is wrong in our society in order to then find out ways to solve the problems," Obed said.

This means that Nunavut needs more than just life-affirmation, or "celebrate life" activities.

The paper says that although these measures are essential, Nunavut must also provide full support for those who are at risk of suicide.

For example, the paper says that suicidal behaviour in Nunavut cannot be understood in isolation from other social factors: early school dropout, substance abuse, overcrowded housing, sexual abuse, unemployment, poverty and violence.

On the other hand, Obed says the discussion paper, written in a heavily-footnoted academic style, isn't for everybody.

"If we get feedback on the discussion paper it will be mostly people who work in the field of mental health, people who work as bureaucrats, people who work in health and social services and other places in the GN and Inuit organizations," Obed said.

And that, Obed says, is why the suicide prevention working group wants to communicate with Nunavummiut on a face-to-face level.

"There are ways in which we can decipher the academic prose into logical actions that we can ask the communities, such as asking if this doesn't work, then how would you change it to make if more effective?"

Updated statistics attached to the discussion paper show that although rates of death by suicide in Nunavut have fallen slightly since 2003, the territory's suicide rate is still 10 times greater than Canada's.

And the numbers show that young Nunavut males aged 15 to 24 die by suicide at a rate that is 28 times higher than their counterparts in the rest of Canada. The report says the greatest loss of life in Nunavut occurred among 15-year-olds.

"One thing about this process that has been quite uncomfortable for all our political leaders is that a lot of the discussion isn't going to be about positive happy things," Obed says.

But he says the only way to get and deliver better programs and services is to talk openly about Nunavut's needs.

And that means all Nunavut organizations must hold frank discussions about things that many still don't want to talk about, Obed said.

The discussion paper, for example, says Nunavut's high suicide rates indicate a high rate of diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illness.

But at the same time they suggest that mental health services in Nunavut are not of the same range and quality available to average Canadians in southern Canada.

"In the past this jurisdiction has tended to treat suicide in a reactionary and subjective way," Obed said

"What we would like to move towards is an objective approach that has a vision for the long-term that involves all Nunavummiut, but involves them in a way in which we can all work together."

Obed said that after the consultation tour is done, the working group hopes to get its suicide prevention strategy written by the fall of this year.

What's up for discussion?

Here are some of the ideas that Nunavut's suicide prevention working group want you to think about.

Many of these proposals would require action and more spending from the Government of Nunavut and others.

  • The creation of an "Office of Suicide Prevention" within the Government of Nunavut that would oversee the implementation of a suicide prevention strategy and co-ordinate the work of all relevant GN departments and agencies, including expert advice and training;
  • More suicide alertness and intervention training in the schools for students and staff;
  • More training for ordinary Nunavummiut, especially those who work with youth, to help them identify people at risk and direct them to the help they need;
  • Stronger counselling and mental health services in the communities;
  • More support for community-based volunteer groups, such as the board that runs the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line;
  • Providing Nunavummiut with more information related to suicide prevention;
  • More research on the underlying causes of suicidal behaviour in Nunavut, the financial costs of suicidal behaviour, and the effectiveness of early childhood development ­programs.
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