On World Suicide Prevention Day, many lack mental health care in Nunavut

In Baker Lake, staff shortages mean only mental health emergencies are seen

Sept. 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day, when Nunavut’s Embrace Life Council organizes many suicide awareness and prevention events. But mental health support is still lacking in some Nunavut communities. (Image courtesy of Embrace Life)

By Jane George

It’s Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, and in many Nunavut communities you will see events to raise awareness and remember the many Nunavummiut who have died by suicide in the territory.

In Iqaluit, there will be an Embrace Life Walk at 4 p.m. from the elders’ qammaq to Inuksuk High School, followed by a community feast.

Today’s focus on suicide prevention comes when some Nunavut communities continue to suffer from a lack of basic mental health support and access to health care.

People in the community of Baker Lake have been asked not to show up at the local nursing station or call for mental health help unless it’s an emergency.

Due to staffing restraints, the mental health nurses in Baker Lake have said they are now only seeing clients for emergencies and long-acting medication management.

That’s until a second indeterminate mental health nurse is expected to arrive in this community of about 2,000 on Sept. 23, “depending on housing availability,” a recent notice posted on social media said.

The message in caps was: “WE ARE NO LONGER ACCOMMODATING WALK IN APPOINTMENTS.” The reasons given: “it is neither an effective nor sustainable delivery of service considering the size of the community in relation to the number of mental health staff.”

Baker Lake is not alone with its understaffing.

In Gjoa Haven, as of this Friday, the health centre also plans to cut back to emergency services for at least a week because there will only be two nurses in the community of about 1,400.

One of the nurses at the clinic called it a “time of crisis” on social media.

“Only those who need to be seen will be seen. Others will be given advice especially for such things as colds, viruses, minor cuts or burns,” she said.

That’s unacceptable to a concerned Gjoa Haven resident who contacted Nunatsiaq News about the reduction in services.

“Running a health centre on emergency services only means that public-health-type issues are not being addressed,” said the resident, who asked for anonymity due to repercussions if his name appeared in print.

“It just seems to me that the more remote centres are neglected or forgotten about and yet we seem to be the most in need. ”

Gjoa Haven has repeatedly asked the Nunavut government for more mental health assistance.

“We are in desperate need of help with mental health issues,” Gjoa Haven Mayor Joanni Sallerina said last year.

“The community sees that the mental health workers are overworked and therefore not able to meet all of the needs of the community,” he said. “Clients are becoming violent in homes that are already overcrowded and children, elders and special needs people are being affected by this violence.”

Gjoa Haven’s hamlet council said it also wanted more qualified, professional health workers who could provide on-call services, home visitation and counselling, potentially from a new outpatient facility.

If you are in crisis, you can call:

• Kamatsiaqtut Help Line: 1-800-265-3333 (Inuktitut, English)
• Residential school crisis line: 1-866-925-4419 (Inuktitut, English, French)
• Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or by text at 686868 (English, French)
• First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310 (English, French, Inuktitut upon request)

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