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
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.