Inuit leaders and mental health workers are calling on the Nunavut government to improve and expand mental health services.

Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, said the issue should be a priority for the territorial government. 

"We need to put in the infrastructure and the services so that individuals can get the help that they need," she said.

"It could be anywhere from addictions to schizophrenia, or even downright depression from significant issues that have happened in your life and you need help. We need to provide that service to our people and it is an urgent situation."

Many Nunavut communities only have mental health workers who fly in occasionally, while others have no mental health workers at all.

More training, workers needed

Simon said training more workers is a critical step. 

"We need to treat it as a situation where it requires immediate attention," she said.

"We've envisioned a centre that could be built in any of the regions that would provide a much more comprehensive approach to individuals' well being, and also for training — we need to train Inuit to become counselors."

MLA Jeannie Ugyuk sees the consequences in her Nattilik constituency.

"We see it a lot in the court system, that a lot of people that need the services end up in the court system or in jail, when they actually need the services."

One service that is available is the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, where trained volunteers answer calls from all over Nunavut.

However, co-chair Sheila Levy said people also need support in their own communities. 

"The helpline is one thing — it's anonymous, it's confidential — certainly, volunteers really try to support people in helping them find people to talk to face to face as well as calling the line," she said.

The Nunavut government launched a suicide prevention strategy in October, partnering with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council and the RCMP.

The strategy includes a commitment by the territorial government to create and improve mental health facilities.