Nunavut MLAs press ministers on mental health resources

“A greater effort needs to be made to provide specialized support”

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa asked Pattersk Netser why he isn’t reaching out to Inuit organizations to ask for partnerships on housing. (File photo)

By Patricia Lightfoot

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa says he’s concerned that Nunavummiut do not seek help from the territory’s mental health workers because those workers do not speak their language.

“Currently, the mental health care workers do want to help, but they do not know the culture and they don’t know the language. That is why the people don’t approach them when they require help,” Quassa said in the legislature on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Quassa asked Health Minister George Hickes how many Inuit mental health workers are currently employed by the Department of Health.

Hickes referred to “dozens and dozens of positions across the territory,” though he did not have the numbers in front of him.

Hickes said, “Our community wellness workers … are an integral part of the mental health service delivery.”

Quassa followed up by asking whether these Inuit mental health workers were provided with Inuktitut-language resources.

“Can the minister inform us right now if there are any learning materials made available in Inuktitut so that there can be a resource for these workers?”

Hickes replied that he was not aware of “the exact curriculum,” but said he could provide information about a project “to make sure that Inuit staff are able to [provide] consistently and culturally appropriate services in mental health.”

Hickes explained that this involved training paraprofessionals, such as outreach workers and youth program facilitators.

“We’ve got 14 currently in Arviat, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Cape Dorset, Gjoa Haven, Hall Beach, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, Naujaat, Pond Inlet and Rankin Inlet, and efforts are being made to hire in Pangnirtung.”

Hickes added, “Providing these positions at a local level … is the integral part of people accessing the mental health services to make sure that they are getting the appropriate care.”

Further programs for Inuit mental health workers

Quassa then put a question about the training of Inuit mental health workers to Patterk Netser, minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College.

“Do you have any plans in your department to create a program for mental health workers?”

Netser replied that the college is putting together a strategic plan and will be consulting with the communities to see what types of courses or programs they would like to see in the college’s adult education section.

“One of the questions is going to be about mental health and training.”

When asked when those community consultations would begin, Netser said he couldn’t say, because the college had just started this process, which will also involve an online survey.

Mental health resources for children and youth

Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk asked Hickes about the availability of specialized mental health resources for children and youth in the communities.

“I feel that [a] greater effort needs to be made to provide specialized support, counselling and guidance in our communities to the children and youth who are living with the after-effects of trauma,” Nakashuk said.

Hickes suggested that a child or youth who “feels they are going through something that they cannot deal with on their own” should talk to their family and, if necessary, “go into the health centre and talk to one of our mental health professionals.”

Hickes added that health centre staff would be able to identify the appropriate resources, ranging from in-community counselling, to counselling that can be accessed outside a community, and “for higher levels of care we work with Sick Kids hospital [in Toronto] for telepsychology.”

Nakashuk said that she encourages people in her community to access the local resources, but noted that “the mental health nurses are very busy and they are usually lacking in the communities.”

She expressed particular concern about the lack of mental health resources for young children.

“Are there mental health workers that can help very young children? We know that’s what’s lacking as well in the communities.”

Hickes responded that he did not have that information for Pangnirtung to hand, but said that where there are no mental health nurses in a community, “there are still mental health workers who can refer the child and family to a mental health professional.”

Community-led initiatives

Hickes highlighted the importance of the Government of Nunavut’s quality of life secretariat, which directs funding to community-led initiatives.

“The whole focus … was to have the community-level engagement on what type of services that are desired.”

He added, “I know that there have been a number of programs delivered in Pangnirtung and I applaud the community members that are leading those initiatives.”

Nakashuk continued to seek help for her community, saying, “Some communities … sometimes have very unexpected trauma and children are experiencing that more and more these days.

“The numbers seem to be getting higher all the time where children see unimaginable things, bad things.”

Nakashuk pressed Hickes to say what the Department of Health is planning to do to help the communities with mental health issues.

Hickes provided a list of services that are available from mental health assessment to safety planning to access to youth helplines.

He emphasized that the GN is not alone in working on this, that they have partnerships with a number of organizations, including the Tukisgiarvik Society, the Pirurvik Centre and the Pulaarvik Friendship Centre.

“There are resources there and we’re continuously working on improving them.”

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(20) Comments:

  1. Posted by Ray Donovan on

    He keeps pushing the language issue at all costs yet there are’nt enough mental health workers period.

    • Posted by Disgruntled on

      Yup. The language is not the issue. Culture is not the issue. The lack of psychiatrists, the lack of therapists, the lack of mental health nurses…these are the issues. Mental health is about science, not about beliefs, language, or culture. There is a desperate need for qualified mental health workers in every community in Nunavut.

      • Posted by Karl Popper on

        You say that “Mental health is about science, not about beliefs, language, or culture.” I say, you’re partly right, as far as it being about ‘science’ goes. But the rest of your comment ignores the variables that a good ‘scientific’ study of mental health would account for. I would argue that language, culture and beliefs are integral to the sense of connection and life meaning that underpin good mental health. These are not some categories that exist beyond ‘science,’ which is a method for measurement and the discovery of truth, not an ideology.

  2. Posted by Evelyn Thordarson on

    Funny thing when Paul Quassa was the Premier of Nunavut Mental Health wasn’t one of his top priorities yet since losing his position he really enjoys stirring the pot. Mental health workers need to be university educated like a psychologist for instance. Then there is the confidentiality issue loose lips sink the mental health program. I personally would want to visit a psychologist with the real credentials before a one month trained local who is only hired because they speak Inuktitut…oh and by the way mental health is not based on culture.If families would address the deep rooted issues that are kept secret in families like child sexual abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse , alcohol addictions, drug addictions, throw away children of slavery within a family, favored children,children adopted as babies to irresponsible parents, Attention deficit disorders, Fetal Alcohol syndrome,…..attack the real issues causing mental health breakdowns. Families need to face these issues and admit that they are the causes for people with mental health problems in their family unit.

    • Posted by Maureen Tapatai on

      Why is it that whenever I see your comments, you consistently attack the Inuit and its culture? You claim that having Inuktitut as a language isn’t important in the workplace; it is extremely important. Not everyone up here fluently speaks English and not all can express themselves in English and prefer to relay their emotions in a language they most understand. Southerners have their culture and practices, the same way Inuit do and you indirectly state in your comment that our culture and values are less important or valuable as those in the south. We are constantly having to validate ourselves in Canada to get attention and resources and your comments don’t help. Also, a lot of mental health issues are not ALWAYS stemmed from incidents in the home or adoption. I possess a psych degree and you should be humbled to know that a lot of mental health issues are lying in our brains dormant and as puberty hits, the hormones basically feed these underlying issues. It’s the amount of hormones and neurons that determine the extent of how extreme or not the individual will be affected by specific mental illnesses or diseases. So before you state that it’s a result of us being adopted, favoured or not favoured, born to alcoholic families and your long list of stereotypes against the Inuit, please also take the time to perhaps take a ONE month course as you claim the Inuit do and read a book or two on cognitive psychology, behavioural psychology, clinical psych and biochemical psychology and THEN you may sit there as a keyboard warrior against the Inuit.

  3. Posted by More resources on

    There needs to be more resources for others too. There are a lot of people who lost their parent(s) aren’t sure where and who to go to. I have gone through it myself and it’s tough. Especially when you lose you parent(s) at an early age.

  4. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Bang on Mr Quassa. Bang on.

  5. Posted by NU Resident on

    I don’t think this is true, well not for all communities anyways.

  6. Posted by Inukuluk on

    And then there’s the waiting time of 2-3 months before you can be seen by mental health

  7. Posted by Unreal on

    Reading Patterk Netsers comments I see nothing but a smoke screen to cover the fact that the College has absolutely NO PLAN in place to train mental health workers. NOTHING… please read it again. There’s a question, apparently (just one) on an upcoming survey that will be released… well we don’t know when. Unbelievable! It is not even on their radar. Think about that for a minute. This is our territorial College. As an institution it has a duty to serve the educational needs of our territory. Among the most pressing is undoubtedly mental health workers. How can this escape the College? How can this escape the Minister? What an absolute failure on the part of the College.

  8. Posted by Ms.Tupak on

    It’s always better to speak with someone who understands you culture and language. So yes Mental Health workers need to know the culture and language. I know of one who got more confused talking to a kabluunaq mental health worker who kept asking which on is your mother? In the inuit Culture , it’s common to have more then one mother if you are adopted. We don’t keep secrets who the real mothers are and so the adotped person knows their ” Bio” mother and their real other mother who adopted them.
    The ones in communties who become 911 are the pastors and they deserve some recognition. They get called so many times to counsel.
    Of course a workshops and courses can train Inuit who have been helping for years as volunteers. Too many kablunaaqs come into communties and become experts and have all the answers. But culture and the language is best when a person is looking to talk to someone.
    I agree with Quassa.

  9. Posted by Dear Mr. Patterk on

    I partially agree that mental health is not bound in culture. Some posters belittle inuit, their culture, and tradions as though it is an illusion. Cultures are real human realities.
    Even medical practioners don’t know enough about medicine or mental heath. Find to discredit or verify.

  10. Posted by Putuguk on

    There is no doubt that things would be better if we had more trained and bilingual Mental Health Workers in Nunavut. Quassa is bang on in this regard. My concern is about how we perceive these capacity issues. We are predisposed to look at the demand side. It is the same as the way we look at teachers and nurses.

    For once, I would like to have people look at these issues from the supply side. Please explain how many Nunavummuit want to be in these positions. Based on how many people want to enter these demanding fields, every effort should be made to support them become fully trained and functional. The number of people we have that are motivated, healthy, emotionally strong and committed to helping others in these ways is finite. In fact, it is probably limited given our social context. If we have every one of these impressive individuals working, this is what success should look like.

    It is not very often that I hear from any of our leaders that they know of constituents who want training to become something, and it is not being facilitated in some way, either through the college or in partnership with groups down south. This is actually what should be driving efforts to maximize Inuit involvement in the civil service.

    In my mind, it is pretty presumptuous to say that Inuit should be representative in the civil service no matter what. In truth, it is actually up to the desires and inclinations of individual Inuit whether they want to go for a government job. For a mental health position, I can think of several significant disincentives for local Inuit to want to enter such a profession.

    If there are less Inuit that want to enter a professional field than are required, then let us be happy and satisfied that these needs can be met by others.

  11. Posted by sad idiot on

    Honestly it isn’t just language barriers, there seems to be a lack of understanding of systemic racism and history of colonization on top of the other comments mentioned, there’s a lot of lack of knowledge of why things are the way they are today. It’s also so hard to grow up with seeing how families are hurt by the impact of trauma and realizing how many of your friends from your childhood have been affected by things like alcoholism, abuse, exposure to cigarette smoke, having immediate family members who refuse to change problematic behavior in general, etc. People can also be traumatized by another person’s trauma even if they’ve been given opportunities that would usually improve one’s quality of life. It all contributes negatively children’s quality of life and it hurts being immersed in the environment because it’s all over the place. It’s not just focusing on “stereotypes” these are real issues that need to be addressed and understood by the mental health workers in Nunavut, there is a history of colonialism that many do not learn about before working in the north. Parenting programs and more information on how parents impact a child’s life need to be pushed as well.
    In general, we need mental health workers that are allies and work on educating themselves and those around them to better help and understand that people in the north. There are problems in all communities that need to be addressed and taken action with properly. We’ve been screwed over way too long since colonialism began :c

    • Posted by Observer on

      Do you assume alcoholism, abuse, exposure to cigarette smoke, having immediate family members who refuse to change problematic behavior in general and other issues are somehow limited to Inuit?

      • Posted by Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Depression-Acceptance on

        I don’t think anybody is assuming that these issues are limited to Inuit. But it’s impossible to say that they aren’t present in the Inuit population at much higher rates than the general population.
        I think also that the poster’s comments allude to the opinion that Inuit are not predisposed to these issues, but that they have culminated in a cyclical manner in the culture originating from historical events.
        The discussion needs not to be on whether these issues are more or less present, because we know they are more present, the discussion needs to be on how to break the cycle and improve on these issues.

  12. Posted by skeptical on

    Language and lack of qualified therapist are big issues in the North. I would also say that privacy concerns are another reason why people dont seek help. People are concerned that their issues will leak out and become gossip.

  13. Posted by Qualifications on

    What are qualifications, how come someone with an education in southern schools is accepted as being qualified without question. Yet there are many Inuit techniques and teachings about therapy and mamisaq that worked in the past are not even considered. There is a reason that on the land healing programs have great success. The healing powers of nature.
    There needs to be more understanding of the way of life. Foreigners come to Nunavut, get people out of their way of life, throw them into communities that are not structured to their way of life. Change every aspect of their lives and then someone expect them to know how to live in a new lifestyle that was foreign to them.

    • Posted by Soothsayer on

      Education in southern schools can be a very useful thing, but I would agree that in within this very different cultural context such an education alone is insufficient. In the same what that I would submit that traditional methods, while useful in some cases, are not always going to be sufficient either. Mental illness is a term that encompasses a very broad spectrum of phenomenon; a land program is not going to treat schizophrenia, though it is probably great for depression or anxiety.

  14. Posted by iliatasiqi on

    Every legislative assembly it’s the same thing….a lot of commenting and critiquing on what is not working but nothing changes in the end. We KNOW what the issues are…but no one is willing to invest the money to fix the issues.
    Language and culture are important and beneficial for any health related service but how do we fix this issue unless we address the fact that Inuit are not given enough opportunities to access the education and training needed to be in these positions? Let’s be honest- people need to be trained and educated to work in these positions – how many Inuit would qualify to work for these positions? If the MLAs want Inuit to be in those positions as Mental Health Nurse, which they should be as cultural safety is important, what is the Government doing to ensure that Inuit have opportunities to be educated and trained to work in these positions? How many Inuit get to finish high school yet even go to college or university? Until the Government is willing to invest more in ensuring that Inuit have access to opportunities for education and training…then there will always be a need for workers from the South to hold these positions. To complain about the lack of Inuit in positions but then do nothing to ensure Inuit can access the education and training to do the job makes no sense.. And yes, education and training are important for regulated professions. We cannot keep supporting this idea in Nunavut that people can be in positions who lack the education, and/or training to carry out the duties.

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