Rankin Inlet rallies to demand better mental-health resources

Two dozen people gather in wintry weather to call for change

A group of people in Rankin Inlet gathered on Sunday to rally for more mental health resources and to end the stigma around mental illness. (Photo by Veronica Conelly)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Rankin Inlet residents of all ages marched to end stigma about mental illness and rally for more resources to address high suicide rates on Sunday.

“There’s just too many people dying by suicide in Nunavut,” said Meagan Akumalik Netser, one of the organizers.

Netser said about two dozen community members joined the walk, beginning and ending at the Turaarvik hotel, despite snow and winds gusting up to 50 km/h.

The march came about two weeks after a similar rally was held by Iqaluit youth.

With the highest suicide rates in Canada and some of the highest rates in the world, Netser said Nunavut needs change.

On top of needing more mental health resources like staff and programs, Netser said work needs to be done to reduce the stigma around it.

“People just need to know there is help available and that it’s OK to ask for help,” she said.

Some help does already exist in the community. Rankin Inlet has a men’s healing group that meets once a week and Embrace Life Council’s Healing Through Talking program is available to Nunavummiut over the phone.

But Netser said she’d also like to see someone in each school and workplace trained in mental health and psychological first aid.

Even though there are more mental health professionals in Rankin Inlet than in some smaller Nunavut communities, with two permanent and one short-term mental health nurse in town, Netser said it’s not enough.

She said the transient nurses mean well and are often passionate about helping people, but it’s not ideal to have mental health workers on short-term contracts.

“It’s like playing telephone, your story gets passed on and diluted and it’s a painful story to tell,” she said.

Glenn Woodford, the retail store manager at Rankin Inlet’s Co-op, said he got involved in the march to support his friends, staff and community members.

Woodford said he has reached out for mental health help in the past, but after a few sessions the mental health nurse he was seeing stopped working in Rankin Inlet.

“That’s frustrating and it happens up here all too often,” he said.

“It frustrates people to no end, like, ‘What’s the point of going and asking for help if the person you are expected to confide in and trust is going to leave,’” he said.

Woodford said when suicides happen in Rankin Inlet, they have devastating, long-lasting and profound effects on the community of about 3,000.

“When I go to work and there’s a report of a suicide in the community I can see it in my staff,” he said.

As a father of three, Woodford said he also sees the negative effects on his children.

Woodford said he hopes Nunavut’s new MLAs will pay attention to these issues and find solutions.

P.J. Akeeagok, Nunavut’s premier, said in a Nov. 25 interview that he’s proud of those leading the charge on mental health issues lately, and thanked those in Rankin Inlet fore making their message known.

“They’re using their voice to ensure that there’s actual change coming,” he said.

“We’ve heard it very loud and clear.”

If you’re experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, which is Nunavut-specific and offers services in Inuktitut. The phone number is 979-3333 for Iqaluit residents and 1-800-265-3333 for other Nunavummiut.

The First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline is also available at 1-855-242-3310 or you can chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Be the change on

    “They’re using their voice to ensure that there’s actual change coming,” [PJ Akeeagok] said.

    “We’ve heard it very loud and clear.”

    -Anyone that’s been around for a while knows that this is the rhetoric that leaders have been spewing since Nunavut was created; yet, no changes. You can put all the money in the world at this problem and it will still be a problem. Until a grassroots movement is formed where Inuit become Mental Health Nurses, they will always be filled with transients. Sadly there are not many Inuit going into the Health field after high school. Nunavut needs you, the future on Nunavut needs you. The youth need to be the change they want to see, not beg the government for more hand outs. As we all know, throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it.

    The expectations from the public and from management is far too high for most of these mental health workers (i.e. on call 24/7) that anyone working this job burns out from stress, no support from lazy, incompetent managers and being overworked. They are allowed to live a normal life too.

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  2. Posted by Reasons on

    “They were people not a number” says the sign. Activists get so confused by identity numbers. Their purpose is to make sure you don’t get mixed up with all the same people with your name. Might be kind of important for things like mental health records, no? Making sure you were identified as a unique individual and not the other guy with the same name is what they were used for in the old days, and this is what they are used for today. If you want a Nunavut without identity numbers, go ahead and build one. Nunavut could have that if they wanted it. It makes no sense though, and yet activists keep grinding that old axe.

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    • Posted by Abraham Maslow on

      I think the sign is actually meant to mean, “they were people not a statistic”. That being said, of all the bad things that were historically done to Inuit, I’ve never understood the disc number issue. Unique identifiers are needed in order to keep track of a great many thing, and since many Inuit were still very nomadic at the time, it only makes sense for them to wear them.
      .
      You know who else has a disc number? Every single person in Canada, except we call them social insurance numbers. You think when you submit your tax return to the CRA they look at your name? Soldiers, also, wear ‘dog tags’ to keep their own identification on their person.
      .
      Anyway, that’s off topic. To address suicide rates, you don’t need mental health workers, you need to address Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
      .
      What’s at the bottom, the most basic of needs? Physiological needs, like air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing. Food insecurity, housing crisis, overcrowded homes, poverty, boil water advisories. There’s a reason.
      .
      Next step up? Safety needs – personal security, security of employment, of health, of family, of property. Well, unemployment, crime, poor healthcare, disfunctional families, and essentially very little ownership of property due to social housing and poverty.
      .
      Third step, Love and Belonging. Again, domestic violence and abusive/neglectful parents. Not good.
      .
      Higher up, esteem. Well, with everything I’ve described above, it’s pretty hard to have any self-esteem. When you have no education, no job, no possessions, living in overcrowded and poor conditions, abused or neglected… yeah, you get it.
      .
      And finally, Self-Actualization. Desire to be the most that one can be; self-fulfillment; growth; unity; essentially, reaching your potential. For so many people here, this need is utterly hopeless because the 4 other needs described above are never close to met.
      .
      Mental Health Workers, or a Mental Health Facility, will not fix this.

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      • Posted by Nattiq on

        and lets have an explanation of the amount of money and where is it going please!!!!! SO much money comes here and we do not know what is done with it

  3. Posted by LB on

    After reading the problems with information collection in Nunavut I wonder if the money is going where the need and real value for the dollar is? Family Services seems to have a charity model that builds dependency instead of capacity which does not serve us well and is proven to be ineffective.

  4. Posted by Aqqaqa on

    I commend these people for bringing attention to something that strikes so close to home Nunavut.

    But, let’s be real here, somebody who’s feeling down can get all the mental health help they want but, it doesn’t matter if they have to go back to an abusive home. The amount of physical abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, etc. is crazy and sometimes, one needs only to look in the mirror to see the problem AND the solution. How long are we going to keep blaming society for our woes? I don’t have any answers but, I’m also not going to blame the usual suspects (i.e. social, historical, playing the race card) for all of my problems.

    More mental health services = great! But it’s still only a bandage solution. I agree with other poster who commented on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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