Nunavut youth speak out about access to mental health services in new report

“If this type of investment and shift does not occur, then we can no longer continue to be shocked by staggering youth suicide statistics”

Nunavut’s Representative for Children and Youth’s Office released its first systemic review Wednesday. The report highlights the voices of children and youth across the territory about access to and availability of mental health services.

By Emma Tranter

Young Nunavummiut are speaking out about access to mental health services across the territory in a new report from Nunavut’s representative for children and youth.

On Wednesday, the Representative for Children and Youth’s Office released a 54-page review titled, “Our Minds Matter: A Youth-Informed Review of Mental Health Services for Young Nunavummiut.”

The report, which is the first systemic review conducted by the RCYO, also spells out 15 recommendations to the Government of Nunavut to develop a mental health strategy for children and youth in the territory.

“Each of the recommendations in the report is aimed at improving the unacceptable state of mental health services for children and youth in Nunavut,” said Sherry McNeil-Mulak, Nunavut’s representative for children and youth, at a news conference.

The RCYO is an independent officer of the Nunavut legislature who works to ensure the GN supports and protects the rights of young Nunavummiut.

The office is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Inuit societal values and national advocacy standards, the report states.

The office surveyed 475 individuals across the territory, including 225 youth. The survey was administered in person in 11 of Nunavut’s 25 communities and was anonymous, McNeil-Mulak said.

McNeil-Mulak said throughout the review, the office repeatedly heard the need to have mental health services available in schools. Although many schools have Ilinniarvimmi Inuusilirijiit, or school counsellors, it is not their role to provide clinical mental health services, the report states.

The report groups its 15 recommendations into five categories: mental health in schools, residential mental health services and the continuum of care, mental health workforce, awareness and barriers, and recreational, cultural and leisure activities.

The recommendations include universal mental health programming in schools, college programs to build the capacity of Nunavut’s mental health workforce and cultural competency training for mental health service providers.

Another recommendation calls for an in-territory facility that offers residential mental health treatment for children and youth, which currently does not exist in Nunavut.

“If this type of investment and shift does not occur, then we can no longer continue to be shocked by staggering youth suicide statistics and outraged when hurt and helplessness disguise themselves as undesirable behaviour affecting our communities,” McNeil-Mulak said.

In addition to a transient mental health workforce, the report notes that another barrier Nunavut youth face in accessing mental health services is the stigma toward people with a mental illness.

One youth participant in the survey wrote he or she would feel comfortable asking for help, “if I knew the services were available and I knew getting services wouldn’t make my family life worse.”

The report states that 60 per cent of all health-related cases opened by the RCYO are related to difficulties faced by youth in Nunavut when it comes to mental health services.

In February 2018, the Department of Health announced that one to two mental health and addictions outreach workers, or MHAs, would be allocated to each community. The MHA jobs were intended to be filled by local, preferably Inuktitut speaking Inuit who would receive on-the-job training, the report states.

Despite requesting the training document for these roles from the department, the report states the document remains in draft form and training is not being delivered for these roles.

In another section of the review 82 per cent of the GN’s service providers say they don’t feel the availability of mental health services for young people in the territory is meeting their needs. On top of that, 72 per cent don’t think the quality of those services is adequate.

In a survey of the general population, the report reveals that 91 per cent of participants feel the availability of mental health services for young people in the territory is not meeting their needs.

McNeil-Mulak said her office is aware some of the report’s recommendations have been put forward before.

“Until children and youth in Nunavut are able to access the mental health services that they need, they have a right to, in their own territory, we will continue to urge the government of Nunavut to implement these recommendations,” she said.

Legally, the government has 40 days to respond to the report, making the deadline September 30.

“Each of these recommendations will be closely monitored, and progress will be reported by our office in an ongoing basis,” McNeil-Mulak said.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Not getting any better on

    This is destined to be a much larger problem. People are not reaching out for help, parents are not consenting for their children to see professionals, and workers are rolling in and out without being known to the public, schools, and more importantly those who are at risk. Workers are not staying for reasons such as short, pointless contracts where trust cannot be obtained or inevitably burning out by the case-load and nature of patient testimonials. Gonna be a state of emergency like Old Crow’s global warming assertion…

  2. Posted by Jordan’s Principle on

    So, Jordan’s principle is in effect now. Children everywhere regardless of race, location or affliction are supposed to be afforded the same services as those “privileged” ones who live in urban centres where these services are more readily available!!!

    • Posted by David on

      How does Jordan’s Principle apply when it is the Government of Nunavut’s responsibility to provide the service?

      • Posted by Frustrated on

        But how can you apply Jordan’s Principle if the resource doesn’t exist or doesn’t have space in the first place?

        Also Jordan’s Principle looks good on paper, but people still shirk their responsibilities in practice.

        Kids and youth need help now so they can become healthy adults. We should not be waiting until the pain and trauma is too deep. Nunavut needs access to services NOW.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      That is a bit of a misreading of Jordan’s Principle, isn’t it? There is no differential treatment in Nunavut, the services are equally bad for all, regardless of ethnicity or ethnic origin. The services do not exist in anything like adequate numbers, the staff don’t exist in the numbers that we need. Everybody in Nunavut suffers equally from the lack of mental health services.

      Maybe we should be asking what we need to do to recruit and retain sufficient people? It is no different than our medical system, we suck at retaining people. We can get them here, but the turnover is through the roof. So, what are we doing wrong on the HR front? Oh wait, we’ve been with HR for how long? Okay, let’s take a look at the exit surveys? Oh wait, what exit surveys?

  3. Posted by David on

    This is far from a Nunavut only problem.

    If you live anywhere in the north, and by north I mean an hour or two north of the last major centre. Your access to mental health resources will be extremely limited and the workers will all be transient. This is a major problem right across Canada, and northerners feel it stronger than anyone else.

    Feel free to call access to resources a right if you want, spend all the money you want. The workers to staff the facilities don’t exist and the good ones can work wherever they want in Canada. Not many want to work in the north and bluntly, working in the north doesn’t pay that much more.

    Your only hope is training local.

  4. Posted by How come? on

    “Although many schools have Ilinniarvimmi Inuusilirijiit, or school counsellors, it is not their role to provide clinical mental health services, the report states.”

    Counselors who don’t deliver mental heath services? How come?

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Because they have no education or experience in that field, and it is not part of their job description? I believe that mental health counsellor training will take you 4-6 years of university, and in many places a lengthy internship period.

      • Posted by Brian Eno on

        It might not be in their job description, but the point is, shouldn’t it be? In the article they are referred to as “school counselors” after all. As for university, I am all for higher education. I’ve invested years into it myself, but I do think you can learn to be an effective counselor without ever attaining a degree. Don’t you?

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          An effective counsellor? Absolutely.

          An effective mental health counsellor? No, I’m afraid not.

  5. Posted by Raging Granny on

    Think it is any better in the south. Think again. 3 of every 4 addicts will die before they get treatment.

    • Posted by Frustrated on

      So we should throw in the towel? Don’t our kids- and all kids- deserve better???

  6. Posted by Lost Connections on

    I believe we need different ways of thinking about depression and suicide that are not strictly related to the medical & clinical therapy model alone. We know there are very effective treatments for depression grounded in the creation of stronger social connections. Please check out this Ted Talk on addictions and depression by Johann Hari, and if it piques your interest check out his book ‘Lost Connections’.

    It might not be the answer to all the issues surrounding depression but I am convinced this approach could help the majority of us. Also, if you are interested in this topic, be sure to look up the ‘Rat Park’ experiment (mentioned in this Ted Talk) by Bruce Alexander:

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