Op-ed: Turn talk about mental health into action

Bell Let’s Talk Day has raised awareness of mental health issues; now it’s time to talk about how to act

A group of Iqaluit youth led a rally in November at the legislative assembly, calling on the Government of Nunavut to make more resources available for suicide prevention. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Senator Dennis Patterson says it’s time to turn years of talk about mental health into action that will help people. (File photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Senator Dennis Patterson
Special to Nunatsiaq News

Senator Dennis Patterson (File photo)

On Jan. 26, millions of Canadians will share their stories and struggles related to mental health as part of Bell Let’s Talk Day. The event is billed as “the world’s biggest conversation about mental health.”

Of course, here in Nunavut, discussions surrounding mental health are prominent and year-round.

Too often have we heard the need for more Inuktut-trained, full-time and community-based mental health workers. We are painfully aware that suicide amongst Inuit is 11 times the national average. As recently as December, Iqaluit youths Joseph Ashoona and Deion Pearce, founders of Nunavut Youth Leaders, told CTV News that, in Nunavut, “suicide is a very, very common thing up here.”

I have known family and friends taken by the epidemic of suicide. I know all too well the sense of loss, anger, guilt and frustration that comes upon those left behind. Could I have done more? Were there signs that I missed? How do I move on from here?

It’s not enough to just talk about the problems anymore; it used to be we needed to shine a light on the inequities faced by northerners to accessing life-saving and life-affirming mental health and addictions treatment. Thanks to strong and persistent advocates at the grassroots, municipal, federal, territorial and Inuit leadership levels, that message has been heard loud and clear. But what is being done about it?

This year, let’s talk about supporting initiatives that not only provide treatment and healing, but also provide services that help alleviate some of the burden faced by community members, like organized sports and daycare or respite services. Let’s talk about building up strong broadband networks that are reliable and affordable so that Nunavummiut can access 24/7 crisis support and online counselling, like the type of support made available to southerners.

Let’s talk about the success of initiatives likes Ilisaqsivik’s counsellor training program that focuses on “Inuit-led, culturally relevant community programs” that help bring a trauma-informed approach to mental health work. There are other successful programs training Inuit like Inukisigiarvik, Pulaarvik Kublu and the Cambridge Bay Wellness Centre, which offer free support to residential school survivors. The Qanuininnirmut Ikajuqtiit, Tunngasuvvingat Inuit’s Inuit Community Support Worker and Management Trainee program, graduated 13 nationally accredited Inuit community support workers in 2020 who will be working in Nunavut and with Inuit in Ottawa.

Let’s talk about the programs and services we already have like Canada 2-1-1, a free service that helps connect callers with social services in their communities and the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline (867-979-3333). If you’re not sure how to support someone who is facing a mental health crisis, let’s also talk about the online resources available like www.bethere.org, which provide useful tips on how to best support people through their trauma.

I believe that the conversation has to change in a way that shows there is hope; there are solutions that are currently underway and more solutions on the horizon that just need financial support and political will. If you want to work on pushing these initiative forward, let’s talk.

Dennis Patterson represents Nunavut in the Senate of Canada.

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by still here on

    The north definitely needs theses services, but we also need to ensure that when people decide to be parents that they understand there responsibilities, of being a role model and the job of giving your kids the tools to succeed in life. To let them know they are loved and will be listened to when times are tough, these items are hard to give when alcoholism and drug addiction devour your life over your child’s. education is the key to this, if the parents are unavailable.

  2. Posted by Do the right thing on

    Senator Patterson, you can start by leaving the Conservative caucus in the Senate because you know damn well Conservatives don’t actually care about mental health. They’ve certainly took interest in mental health since the pandemic started because it’s a way to blame the Liberals for their handling of Covid.

    Oh, and the extremists in you’re party that you’ve helped recruit and push do need mental health services. Perhaps you should have taken mental health seriously instead of doing whatever it takes to help your party win votes?

    You can say all right things your staffers tell you to say, but until your party actually does something to improve the mental health of Canadians (instead of dividing them) then they’re just a bunch of empty words.

    • Posted by Pangloss on

      Earlier I was going to comment how unfortunate it is that so many of these conversations, at least on social media, are hijacked by politics and political opportunism. I decided not to bother, but here is exactly what I expected to see; a total distraction from the topic animated by one individuals need to venture out on a mission to score political points that adds nothing to the conversation we should be having.

      • Posted by Do the right thing on

        But seriously, when has Patterson brought up mental health when it wasn’t convenient and aligns with the agenda his party is pushing?

        Before the pandemic the only time he talked about mental health was when weed was being legalized and they were pushing the who psychosis angle.

        I regret getting into politics in this comment section, but I can’t stand the hypocrisy from the Conservatives when it comes to mental health. It’s convenient to bark about it now because it makes the other parties look bad, but when they come to power we know mental health will get axed…at least for poor people. And guess what? Nunavut has a poverty problem.

        So not only is Patterson’s party rhetoric useless, but it’s counterproductive, because when they come to power they’ll undo what little the Liberals have done for mental health and put it even more out of reach for non-wealthy Canadians with their Americanized healthcare fantasies.

  3. Posted by Let’s pretend to talk on

    The “let’s talk” thing that comes around once a year is interesting. I sometimes hear from family members whom I never otherwise hear from, which is fine I don’t contact them either, but they feel compelled to share the “Let’s talk” meme with everyone on their friends list on this day, not because they want to actually talk, but because they want to participate in a moment of memetic movement (yes, I know). I won’t blame them as flawed for this necessarily, but it does go to show how shallow and performative the occasion can actually be.

  4. Posted by Know on

    Let’s talk about improving public housing to support the well being of community. Thanks

    • Posted by “public” housing on

      heres how you solve the housing problem. deal with the real crisis: teenage pregnancies and parents with no education having 6 kids. that is completely unsustainable.

      nunavut pays less in public housing rent than anywhere else in Canada. if people cant pay the 70 dollars a month for a 2 bedroom public housing unit and most people don’t even bother paying. compare that to any other province, the minimum for public housing is around 4-500$ a month. and that is for a 1-bedroom.

      its sad but people need to accept that there will never be enough housing for everybody until kids stop having kids, and those kids focus on education rather than toxic codependent relationships.

    • Posted by Patrick M on

      Have a housing first approach absolutely there is the money for it. GN should do a hard audit of funds for whole of government really see where the money is going and what is working. There is great waste that could be used to build homes. Of course people need to understand how to take care of a house and how to behave so they will not destroy the building. Supported housing might be a good option with a staff who helps people understand rights and responsibilities of housing.

      • Posted by Dave on

        Habitat for Humanity requires all people receiving a home to take a home owners course in basic home maintenance. I think it is a brilliant idea that should be borrowed in Nunavut.

  5. Posted by Uvanga on

    At least your family reaches out even if you think it’s shallow on this particular day, it means they do think about you but just don’t reach out at that moment. They are waving at you from afar via technology. Not to many Nunavummiut have that luxury, no phone, no cell, no laptop/computer, but most households do have the radio that connects them to the rest of the world and the CB radio in the smaller communities. Anyway of contacting each other and keeping in touch, a smile, an acknowledgement, a “how are you doing” helps a person feel part of the community. Let’s do our our part in helping in wellness in our communities. Cynicism and sarcasm has not role when a family member/community member reaches out.

  6. Posted by all talk, no action on

    In all his years in politics, what has Dennis Patterson ever actually DONE to advance suicide prevention in Nunavut or across Canada? Nada.

  7. Posted by Telling the wrong person to care on

    Why does he blame the help of bell. They are phone company. He is the government, he should be asking government for help. I wonder why he has so much hatred toward Northwestel and Bell. Maybe some he hates someone who works for them. I don’t know. He should be telling Government about the problem in Nunavut.

  8. Posted by Nooria Nadia on

    Nunavut has a whole division maybe its even a department for suicide prevention. What do they do?

  9. Posted by Reality on

    “Lets Talk” is a way for Bell to get a ton of free targeted social media advertising while pretending to care about Mental Health. Maybe they do, but it’s the free social media advertising that is the driver. Don’t participate, it’s to raise awareness and social credit of Bell Canada, and not the cause they are piggybacking onto for their own gain.

  10. Posted by What Actions? on

    “Turn talk about mental health into action”, Patterson says.
    “What is being done about it?”, he says.
    Then he goes on to list: Ilisaqsivik’s counsellor training program, Inukisigiarvik, Pulaarvik Kublu the Cambridge Bay Wellness Centre, Qanuininnirmut Ikajuqtiit, Canada 2-1-1, Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline (867-979-3333), and http://www.bethere.org.
    Soooo, things are being done about it? Did you actually offer any good ideas, Mr. Patterson? Or are you just trying to make sure people still remember your name?
    This is what we get from our Senate representative. If you sum up the entire thing, it’s just fluff.

  11. Posted by David Pelly on

    Here is an example, perhaps, of the Bell Let’s Talk support leading to action to help with the mental health crisis among youth in Nunavut. It’s one youth at a time, but it is progress.
    https://ayalikfund.ca/resources/CCF—Bell-Let's-Talk-press-release.pdf “Canadian Canoe Foundation and the Ayalik Fund receive a $22,000 Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund grant to support youth mental health”

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