Nunavut MLAs press ministers on mental health resources
“A greater effort needs to be made to provide specialized support”
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.”
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.”