‘A storm is brewing’: Advisors head to Tuktoyaktuk as mayor says city in mental health crisis | Pro IQRA News

Pro IQRA News Updates.

WARNING: This story is about suicide.

These few years have been difficult years, and the last few months have been particularly difficult in the Tuktoyaktuk, NWT community, the mayor said.

Currently, the community is looking for ways to address the mental health crisis, which seems to be especially looming over the youth in the region.

In the past year, there have been four suicide deaths, all in the last three months, said Mayor Erwin Elias.

Erwin Elias is the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

“We’ve been through a lot as a community,” Elias said. “This is a huge problem – an emergency for our community.”

On Wednesdays, vigils and walks were held in Tuktoyaktuk and in Inuvik, hundreds of people gathered to walk from the school to the city pavilion and also gathered to keep watch.

Elias said in Tuktoyaktuk, a community of about 1,000 people was trying to find out what could be done to better support people.

“It’s really challenging right now,” he said. “This is definitely something you never prepared for.”

NWT health authority staff to the community

In an email from the Department of Health, which was linked to Health Minister Julie Green, he confirmed that he had spoken to Elias “and exchanged emails about this matter.”

Green said as a short-term plan, counselors were sent to Tuktoyaktuk to provide support, with Northwest Region Health and Social Services Authority staff heading there starting this weekend.

Green also acknowledged a proposal for a Suicide Prevention Fund submitted by the city’s community company on September 20.

“Our team will provide whatever support we can to expedite approval of this important proposal,” he said.

Regarding long-term plans, Green said the chief operating officer of the Beaufort Delta Region health authority traveled to Tuktoyaktuk along with the regional Community Counseling Program manager to “hear from the community about their needs and to determine next steps.”

Three young people carrying posters lead a group walking down the street.
Walk and guard the Inuvik community for suicide prevention on September 21, 2022. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

NWT health authorities will then “explore options” to provide long-term support, based on these conversations, he said.

“Suicide is devastating. The impacts on small communities in the north are often far-reaching and long-lasting, and there are no simple solutions,” Green said. “Our goal as a government is to listen and give as much support and compassion to the people as possible in times like these.”

Problems — and solutions — have many facets, says Elias

Elias says the mental health crisis is not an isolated problem; Other “barriers” weigh on people, such as housing problems or homelessness.

Elias said the COVID-19 lockdown might make people’s morale worse sometimes.

“Part of the culture is getting together, and it’s all taken away, we can’t get together, we can’t dance, we can’t sing. We were told to stay away from each other,” he said.

“I already asked [the government], and tell them that, we are facing a storm here with mental health. So what’s the plan when we get out of there?”

For the community, she said they have held group meetings such as singing together, meeting with mental health workers, bringing in motivational speakers and cooking. He said there was support from local businesses in the community as well. However, the events do not always seem to attract the target group, Elias said.

“Right now, we’re trying to figure out what we need to do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the barriers are, but the biggest one is understanding what the age group we are targeting needs.”

Elias said he also saw an increase in alcoholism, but he said he was worried about turning Tuktoyaktuk a “dry” community – banning alcohol – because he said it could do more harm than good, as smugglers showed up making alcohol prices soar and people started to “drink.” anything.”

A man crouched by a bonfire looking at a series of handmade posters on the ground.
Jede English looks at ‘what gives me hope’ posters made by young people at an event in Inuvik, NWT (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

He said another impact on people’s mental health could be attributed to not having certain facilities such as long-term nursing homes, meaning some people who want to visit their grandparents can’t, as older people in need of care are often sent out of the community.

“For some families wanting to go see their old grandparents, it’s also a burden for them.”

One very helpful resource that the community has received, he said, is onshore funding, where people are given not cash but vouchers to buy gas and food to go ashore.

“We’ve seen people out on the ground who haven’t been out on the ground in years,” he said.

Portrait of six people standing outside with their arms around each other.
From left to right: Nancy Mcinnis, Peggy Day, Lisa Keegan-Drennan, Rachel Schooley and Sales Kelsey of the Mental Health Awareness Working Group. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

Elias said it would be helpful to have a community economic development officer in Tuktoyaktuk, where people can request funds for certain items such as materials for sewing, or to start small businesses.

“We’ve been pushing for it. And, you know, I’m happy to say that, you know, it’s coming back to the community here soon.”

“Keeping people busy, I think, is key.”

‘We need to talk about it’

Ruthie Goose is one of the vigil organizers at Inuvik, and a member of the Mental Health Awareness Working Group.

He says it’s time people start having honest conversations with each other about mental health.

“In the past, everyone didn’t want to talk about suicide, suicide was pushed under the carpet,” Goose said.

“We need to talk about it, we need to use it on our kitchen table… because if we don’t talk about it, we’ll never get to the end of it, we need to talk about it.”

Meanwhile, Rachel Schooley, who is also from the Mental Health Awareness Working Group, said several resources, such as helplines, needed to be supported to help build a level of trust between mental health workers and those seeking them.

“They don’t know the people who answer the phone. There’s no trust there. There’s no connection there,” he said.

“Making Indigenous counselors accessible to being in the community, local people being at the end of the line of support is very important. There is a lot of red tape, preventing those services from being offered at this time.”

For one, Schooley thinks a master’s degree shouldn’t be necessary to be a mental health resource in the region.

“Knowledge of the community and their needs and their people is what is needed. So ensuring that those resources are utilized is more important than ever,” said Schooley.

Schooley said in terms of crisis response, they have heard from young people that they would also like to help monitor social media, if friends show signs of distress in their posts.

And he said, elders in the community can also play a role in shaping the available resources as well.

“We have some wonderful elders and community members who can shape what service is like,” said Schooley. “It’s just that we need to be heard.”


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