Nunavut gains suicide prevention super-group

“We’re recognizing that suicide is the community’s responsibility”



After what one participant called a “visionary” weekend of work, Nunavut has an umbrella organization to coordinate suicide prevention programs.

Representatives from churches, government, police and Inuit associations merged forces this past weekend, during a meeting in Iqaluit to form the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Council, a group whose goal is to emphasize action over bureaucracy.

While there are many groups and programs for suicide prevention in Nunavut, they lack a central hub to coordinate activities.

Justice of the Peace Alexina Kublu, speaking for the council, stressed that the group aims to put more resources in the hands of communities, and pledged that the council wouldn’t be a distant bureaucratic agency.

“We want it [the council] to be at the community level,” she said in an interview after the Jan. 24-25 meeting. “It [the council] belongs to the community, it’s for the community, and by the community.”

RCMP are looking for space to set up a temporary office in Iqaluit, though no date was fixed at the council’s founding conference.

Kublu said the group also hoped to hire two or three people to handle the council’s list of objectives, such as spearheading public education campaigns and training health, justice and education workers in suicide prevention.

Kublu, who volunteers for the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, said the idea to form a council that would tie together suicide prevention programs has been bandied about for years.

“This is not something new,” she said. “This has been snowballing to where we are today. [Until now] it’s been everybody in their own little cubbyhole, trying to prevent suicide.”

New or not, the council members said the need for a multilateral organization is real.

The group needs to bridge a “gulf” that exists between the formal health system, and counsellors, families, and church ministers in the community, said Lootie Toomasie, mayor of Qikiqtarjuaq, which has the highest suicide rate in Nunavut.

“Nunavut needs a comprehensive, co-ordinated suicide prevention plan,” Toomasie said in a press release. “We need to find ways to improve the resources available at the community level.”

The council’s next task will be to form a board of directors, appointed by Nunavut’s three Inuit associations, RCMP, the Government of Nunavut, the government’s elders council, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, the Federation of Nunavut Teachers, and the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Pentecostal churches.

Members hope money will come once the group is registered as a non-profit organization. Besides a few office workers, the council’s activities will be run by volunteers.

Charlotte Borg, a help line worker at the founding meeting, described the work to date as “visionary,” and distinct from suicide awareness and prevention groups that already exist.

“I think the difference is this group is including the government, but not relying on the government,” Borg said. “We’re recognizing that suicide is the community’s responsibility.”

Although the only project earmarked for the immediate future involves an Inuktitut name and logo contest, a member suggested that the council may look at researching suicide profiles. That would involve surveying survivors and suicide prevention workers to create character sketches of people with suicidal tendencies.

Jack Hicks, a media liaison for the suicide prevention council, said Nunavut lacks the scientific data needed to help identify who may be at risk.

“I’d argue you can’t design effective suicide prevention without detailed characteristics of the people we’re trying to work with,” Hicks said in an interview before the founding conference. “The bottom line is we know very little [about why Nunavut’s suicide rate is so high].”

Last year, 37 people in Nunavut took their own lives, an increase of more than 50 per cent from the year before. Most were young Inuit men and teenage boys.

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