Health department launches anti-suicide campaign

Nunavut Health Minister Ed Picco this week unveiled a multi-media suicide prevention campaign aimed at helping Nunavummiut help each other.


IQALUIT ó Flanked by cardboard mock-ups of two colourful newspaper advertisements, Health Minister Ed Picco this week announced his department’s latest public-information campaign to reduce suicide in Nunavut.

Picco said his department has produced posters, radio announcements, television commercials and newspaper advertisements aimed at two “key groups:” young people, and the family and friends of people at risk.

Picco said people in communities all over Nunavut suggested the simple messages contained in those materials.

“They told us that the silence must be broken,” he told reporters at a press conference Monday.

“What you see is from the communities and it’s from their hearts.”

Picco’s department has built its campaign around five simple messages, such as “Everyone matters; everyone is important,” and “Inuit values and beliefs are the key to survival.”

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Nunavut’s suicide rate has escalated rapidly since the creation of the territory on April 1, 1999. In that year, 19 Nunavummiut died in completed suicides. In 2000, 27 people committed suicide, and in the first six weeks of 2001, four Nunavummiut have already taken their own lives.

Of the 50 Nunavummiut who have killed themselves since the beginning of 1999, 28 were from the Baffin region, 13 from the Keewatin and nine from the Kitikmeot.

People helping each other

Picco said the best way for his department to help reduce suicide is to provide ordinary people in the communities with the skills to help each other.

“I think its safe to say that the Nunavut government cannot stop suicide by itself, but we can be on the ground to offer support.”

As the campaign emphasizes, families and community residents need to reach out to one another to break down the isolation suffered by people experiencing mental and emotional difficulties, Picco said.

Government of Nunavut, Employment Opportunities

“We need the communities to start taking control of these issues themselves,” Picco said. In one image that recurs throughout each of the government’s three 60-second television commercials, the aged hand of an elder reaches down from a corner of the screen to grasp the hand of a child.

Caroline Anawak, the Nunavut health department’s mental health specialist, said suicide is not the Inuit way and that the government’s campaign emphasizes Inuit values such as resourcefulness, perseverance and strength.

“It’s using what’s old and certain to deal with what’s new and uncertain,” Anawak said. Anawak told reporters that her department has been offering suicide awareness training to a wide range of people, including counsellors, teachers, health workers, police officers, coroners, social workers, parents and young people themselves.

“We can’t hide the fact that we have the highest suicide rate in the country,” she said. She said her department also offers training in trauma, stress, care for caregivers, sexual abuse, childhood trauma, and grief and bereavement.

“We need as Nunavummiut to reach out to people who are in need and in danger,” Anawak said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Anawak has collected a variety of materials within a document called the “Peer Counselling and Suicide Prevention Manual,” which is now widely distributed throughout Nunavut.

She said her department also has a “community mobilization plan,” which is aimed at preventing repeat suicides in communities that are undergoing trauma.

Anawak also pointed out that many volunteer activities are already helping to prevent even more suicides from occurring. The Baffin crisis line, for example, receives 10-15 calls every evening, she said.

Ed Picco promises that his government’s campaign will be a “multi-year, multi-faceted program” that is designed for the long term.

“It’s going to take 10, 15, 20 years to get here,” Picco said.

As for the cost of the program, Picco said it’s about “a million dollars.”

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