Nunavut-wide protests planned for more mental health support

“We need help now”

Protesters calling for better mental health services plan to march in communities across Nunavut on Friday. In Iqaluit they’ll march to the legislature. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Alanna Copland is organizing a Nunavut-wide protest on Friday to call on the federal and territorial governments to provide permanent mental health resources for all Nunavummiut.

The protests are set to take place at 1 p.m. in the Kitikmeot, at 2 p.m. in the Kivalliq and at 3 p.m. in Qikiqtani.

“We have a suicide epidemic,” Copland said, over the phone in Iqaluit.

In addition to organizing the protest, she’s also working on a project to gather names of loved ones who have been lost to suicide.

“I know it’s a very sensitive topic, and it’s understandably so because we’ve lost so much,” Copland said.

The plan is to bring the names to Nunavut’s legislature in Iqaluit “so we can create an impactful statement … as a daily reminder that we need help.”

Copland said that gathering these names is special project that she’s been working on, and that people can continue to add to the list after the protest on Friday.

Protests will start with a moment of silence in remembrance of those who have died by suicide.

Protesters then plan to simultaneously march in every community in the territory. In Iqaluit, they’ll start at the main four-way stop and end up at the legislature, where they’ll make speeches, and present the list of names.

Copland has been outspoken about Nunavut’s mental health needs since she was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety in 2014.

“Nunavut wasn’t going to provide me services I needed to heal so I brought it upon myself to move out of the territory,” she said.

She stayed with family in Manitoba, spending two years getting the help she needed.

“Not everyone in Nunavut has that luxury,” Copland said.

Since then she’s worked to normalize mental health needs and end stigma around getting help. People open up to her on social media, she said, telling her that they wait for months and, in some cases, years for treatment.

“Those stories I hear from other people have really pushed me to do more about it.”

In addition to that, Copland said a woman named Tiana Gordon in Rankin Inlet recently held a protest for better mental health services, which inspired her to do something similar.

It was during her lunch hour when Copland decided to put out the call for the territory-wide protest.

It was scary, she said.

“I’ve never done a protest. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

Copland thinks the Government of Nunavut’s plan to build an addiction treatment and mental health support centre in the territory is important, but it’s a long way from being a reality. The intent of the protest is to get services in place sooner.

Alanna Copland is organizing a protest across Nunavut, calling on the federal and territorial government for more mental health services. (Photo submitted by Alanna Copland)

“We definitely need more front-line workers, and support for the front-line workers.”

She said she knows it’s possible, after seeing how quickly the GN responded to the possibility of COVID-19 entering the territory.

“Even years after a Nunavut suicide inquest was done, resources are lacking,” she said, “and that is unacceptable.”

Copland talks about how some communities don’t have mental health workers at all, or any facility that they can go to.

Copland says the protest is just the first step. She plans to work with her team to write letters to the appropriate government officials. Nunavut’s member of Parliament, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, reached out to her to say that she supports the call for more mental health services in the territory.

“We’ll definitely keep voicing and fighting for mental health services,” Copland said.

If you would like to help organize a protest in your community or have the name of a loved one added to Copland’s list, you can contact her on Facebook.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Some tips to getting better on

    Been dealing with mental illness for a long time. I felt a bit trapped by the system here in Nunavut (it has its flaws) and then I hit rock bottom. Somehow I mustered up the energy to be proactive. I wanted to share some thoughts and things I did in order to get my life back on tracks:

    -go see a doctor. Doesn’t matter if you don’t trust the system (I didn’t). If you feel too angry/sad/emotional to speak, write down exactly how you feel before seeing the doctor. My first visit with a doctor was extremely helpful.

    -Be as honest as you can with yourself. If you hide information from your doctor, counselor, confident, then you prevent the healing process from fully developing.

    -anti-depressants/anxiety meds aren’t a cure–they’re a tool to give you a step in the right direction. Taking them doesn’t make you a flawed individual, you may have to take them the rest of your life. You may have to try different ones.

    -DAILY EXERCISE! You have no idea how powerful it is. Just do something.

    -Meditate. Or learn to stop and take a few deep deep breaths. Common knowledge but it works like magic when you’re feeling stressed.

    -you have to work at it constantly. You don’t just go to rehab and come out healed. You can never fully heal or return to “normal” (whatever normal is). Recovering from a mental illness is making incremental improvements every day. You need to learn tricks to beat your mental illness. You have bad days, but the goal is to learn to shut down dark thoughts and urges before they start spiraling out of control.

    -get a better understanding of what happiness is. It’s cliché to say money and things don’t make you truly happy, but it’s true.

    -Cellphone addiction is the number 1 reason why there’s a depression epidemic among young people. I use mine all the time, but try cutting back and you’ll see improvements. Try having small talk with a stranger in the post office lineup instead of burying your nose in your phone and you’ll feel amazing afterwards.

    -you have more time to do the things you want than you think. One reason why many of us are sad is because we think our lives are too busy and we don’t have time to do what we want. That’s an illusion. Unless you’re going to die in a month, you have your whole life to do the things you want, so relax and enjoy. You’ll feel better.

    -Be as social as you can. It’s hard for people like me who claim to be introverts, but when I push myself to open up and have conversations, I feel great about myself.

    -Educate yourself on your condition. Don’t read pseudoscience garbage. Jesus can help you but he doesn’t have a magic cure. The only person who can save you is yourself so work hard at it.

    -Nothing I said here is a magic pill that will cure you, but try to do a few of them and incorporate them into your routine. It’s really hard to create routines, but if you can incorporate a few of these tips and you’ll feel better, guaranteed.

    • Posted by Interesting Thoughts on

      First off, there are some very helpful tips in here. Exercise is definitely one of those. In fact exercise has been shown to be as effective if not MORE effective than antidepressant SSRI’s (which I don’t believe are that helpful at all, given personal experience and their mixed support in the research).
      Meditation is also a useful tool, if used properly – a difficulty here is that many people approach meditation expecting it to yield a state of peace and even bliss, and this is what they search for. Here’s a suggestion, approach meditation as a way to discover how your mind works, how thought and emotion arise in your consciousness (remembering that this is a process beyond your control). Observe those as waves on an ocean and learn to see how we are influenced and often react to these waves of consciousness that are animated pattern of thought; not products of intention or even awareness on our part. See depression here as a pattern of mind that arises without your control; observe it and see how it acts, and how it eventually dissipates.
      You say: “Don’t read pseudoscience garbage. Jesus can help you…” (caveat added)

      Why would you encourage people to avoid pseudo-science, only to encourage a faith based fantasy? I would grant that there are placebo effects to religion, but if we are going to go with that, then shouldn’t the placebo effects of any pseudo-science also be on the table. Very ironic statement.

      • Posted by Some tips on

        While I share some of your frustrations with organized religion, and debated whether or not to include the jesus part in my post, I added it for a few reasons:
        -Some churches have very positive atmospheres without all the bible nonsense. I’d be a little weary of many churches in Nunavut due to the ulterior motives some pastors have, but some pastors/priests will tell their congregation that the bible is 99.9% nonsense and the purpose of gathering under one roof is to learn to love thy neighbor. That seems like a pretty good place to be if you’re suffering from depression.
        -Prayer can be a great opportunity to practice meditation.
        -Nunavut is decades behind the rest of Canada when it comes to letting go of Christianity and church is just an integral part of life for some families. Some people may not be able to divorce themselves from the church without ostracizing themselves from their families because it’s just not something people do in certain communities. So if you have a decent church and supportive family, why not make the best of it and work on your issues? Who cares if the bible is a dumb fantasy. It’s an opportunity. If my church-going grandmother was depressed, I wouldn’t advise her to leave her church (unless the priest was a nut and having a negative effect on her) because that’s just not what people from her generation do. A lot of Nunavummiut are in the same situation as my grandmother.
        -Loneliness is a huge part of depression. Church is an easy place to make friends. You can socialize, talk to strangers, meditate, stay off your phone, take deep breaths, share food and play music (church events), get out of the house, etc. So many of those things are exactly what the therapists order. And you can do all those things without hating gays, immigrants, general sinners, etc.
        Again, I can understand why you called me out on that point. I won’t step in a church either. But I’m pretty fortunate that I have resources at my disposal to fight depression without the need of a church. Some kid in Arctic Bay might not and a healthy church environment might be one of the only options available. But at the same time I also hesitate to suggest religion as a possible alternative because it can have the reverse effect and you can succumb to your delusions. That’s how these crazy churches get so many new followers, they prey on people when they’re at their weakest.

        • Posted by Interesting Thoughts on

          This reminds me a of a line in the film ‘Jesus of Montreal’

          “That Jesus is less than a rock poster… and holy oil less effective than cocaine at $?? a gram? Not everyone can afford psychoanalysis. So they come here to be told ‘Go in peace, your sins are forgiven. It comforts them, a bit. That’s something.”

          Or what Marx called religion, the opiate of the people.

          You have a point. Still, I would say that the kinds of epistemologies that give light to fantasy as reality present an overall and larger liability than they do a good. And that in the aggregate they will ultimately lead to worse mental health outcomes than better ones. But again, I see your point and agree with the benefits of socializing and community.

  2. Posted by Consistency on

    We have all lost to much. Everyone should tell their family they love them. not just in the passing Love you. but stop look at them and tell them clearly, “I Love YOU”. Nagligijagit

  3. Posted by Trying to understand on

    Trying to understand what role the Nunavut trust plays in the operation of the territory. They recived capital payments from the goverment of canada from 1993 untill 2007 as part of the land claims agreement and have a mandate to provide income to beneficiaries, this much I do know. They have over 1.7 billion in assets currently… enough money to build a mental health and addictions treatment centre in every community… enough money to speed the building process in Iqaluit and fund programing…enough money to build a house for everyone in need… What am I missing? do they provide operating income for NTI and QC?

    • Posted by Paul Murphy on

      Let me help you to understand this a bit. You are right the Nunavut Trust did receive a substantial amount of money from the Land Claims Agreement. They, in turn, invest those funds and use that income from investing to pay the expenses. The major expense is transferring a huge portion to NTI for further distribution to the Regional Inuit Organizations.
      If Nunavut Trust did as you suggested, there would be no money to invest, no interest income and therefore no money to pass on to NTI.
      How NTI and the RIOs spend their money is up to them. They are the people you need to speak to.
      Hope that is helpful and I am sure their are others who may have something to add.

    • Posted by Oh Ima on

      Mental Health is responsibility of governments not Inuit organizations in this case NTI most of the lands claims deal with lands tied to undefined rights in exchange define rights. Canada has always failed indigenous peoples in every aspect of our lives I would says intentionally! So if Canada wants Inuit is be proud to be Canadians then provide same services given to non indigenous Canadians that includes proper mental health care and other services!

  4. Posted by Recovering on

    Therapy offered by the hard-working local mental health nurses are a great help, the roadblock is the frequency of psychiatrist available in the towns.
    Actually the first step of seeking help is the most important, the nurses do a great job at providing what they are there to do.
    Hiring more psychiatrists could be a good answer, not all that need help don’t need to be housed in a facility to help heal & rehabilitate.
    The tools are there, just a matter of acceptance.
    Not all cases need a castle help them.

  5. Posted by Hopefully all goes well, Alanna on

    We lost a son& brother over 10 years ago, and although we
    got over the initial tragedy we will always have the feeling
    of sadness & loss. Yeah it was suicide, mental illness.
    We have a lot of organizations in Nunavut (MMIWG , NTI ,
    All saying they are helping the people, especially themselves.
    I hope you can get rid of all the highly paid freeloaders.
    Where is our leadership hiding ?
    Be successful Alanna

  6. Posted by Emotional Distress on

    I’m sure there are a few people in Nunavut who truly are mentally ill, just as there are everywhere. But what most people are dealing with is Emotional Distress.
    Emotional Distress occurs when someone is in a disturbing situation such as over-crowded housing, not having enough food to eat, being bullied, feeling rejected, not seeeing a good way forward in life, etc.
    Doctors and pills and booze and street drugs provide short term escape, but do not solve these problems.
    Some Emotional Distress is best dealt with by changing the situation, such a getting out of an abusive relationship.
    Other Emotional Distress, such as living in an over-crowded house, can be helped by learning coping mechanisms such as meditation or breathing exercises, or even by better storage. Getting the schooling for a well paying job takes longer, but it often comes with housing and is an excellent, if long-term solution.
    1. Best solution – resolve the underlying issue.
    2. Next best – learn to cope.
    3. Where most people are stuck – short term escape.
    4. The tragic end – suicide.
    Nunavut needs treatment centers of various sorts to help people get from step 3 to step 2.
    But what most Nunavummiut need are viable options for getting to step 1.
    That’s got to be the first priority of our government. If they won’t do it, we will havee to elect a new govrnment that will.

    • Posted by Treatment center on

      Agree 100%. A treatment center is badly needed but many seem to think it’s the magic solution that will make things right. Many people won’t succeed for rehab because there’s little chance of them resolving their underlying issues without making drastic changes to their environment (which usually cost $$$). The reality is that you need to be somewhat prepared mentally to make the best of rehab.

      • Posted by ProblematiKs on

        I think the point in the original comment is that for a vast many people, mental health issues follow from poor living conditions and lack of opportunity to live meaningful and productive lives. For some people there’s nothing that rehab or treatment can do to fix that. Which is not to say there aren’t issues that might require that kind of approach either.

  7. Posted by Sadly, Mental Health Care is a Joke on

    I think I’m going to have to leave the territory soon because of the lack of mental health care — it shouldn’t be that way
    Mental health care in Nunavut is a joke.
    2X 20-40min appointments with the a psychiatrist per year — sometimes it’s different ones. Absolutely ridiculous!!!!!!! Continuity of care is really important for mental health– especially if someone is on or changing medications. Sorry, but a lot of GP’s shouldn’t be adjusting psychiatric med doses or changing around meds.
    Chronic vacant position –have had a couple of good ones in the position for 4-6 weeks over the years, have had some terrible ones, but ½-⅔ of the year there is no one. Good ones that come for 4-6 weeks, leave utterly burnt out . . . maybe have 2 mental health ruses in at the same time? People get pushed to see the mental health nurse when there is one: but for actual, meaningful work/treatment for mental health, trust is massive. It is completely unreasonable to push and expect individuals who need mental health treatment to meet with someone who is going to leave in a month– and most likely will never return. That’s like ‘getting burned’ — especially if you are a trauma survivor. What I have had to go through to get any appropriate treatment has been unreal, and fortunately, I’ve been able to advocate for-myself to a certain degree –many people can’t do this. As a patient, I should not have had to be dealing with Department of Health bureaucrats directly having had my treatment plans ignored, buried or dropped all together. The stress of having to do this has negatively impacted my mental health. If I had a tangible illness, I wouldn’t have had to do this.

  8. Posted by Jennifer on

    At least we got a B&W store, that should help things right?

    Seriously I do hope the GN will pull up their big boy socks and actually start to work on the things needed most in Nunavut.

    • Posted by Time to Get Real on

      Yes, I hear their next project is a pot store in Iqaluit. That way all the government workers can be both drunk and stoned at the same time. Productivity will just go through the roof.

      • Posted by Time after time on

        I guess the next priority will be a casino once the pot store is done.

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