Northerners urged to embrace life as World Suicide Prevention Day marked around globe
Organizers of suicide awareness events in Nunavut urge people facing hardships to reach out for help
Sunday is World Suicide Prevention Day and communities across Nunavut have events planned to celebrate life and remind those facing troubles that "there is always hope."
In Iqaluit, the Embrace Life Council is organizing its annual Embrace Life Day, which has been happening for more than 10 years.
The day is used to honour the lives of those who have died, to join together to overcome hardships "and remember that we aren't alone," said Rachel Michael, program coordinator with the council.
It is estimated that each day in Canada, 11 people end their lives and 210 make a suicide attempt, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
"It's definitely difficult in certain times when you get so low that it doesn't feel like anyone's there for you. But it takes strength from within, it really is your own motivation that you need to reach out for help," said Michael.
"That's the first step. The pathways are there once you've asked for help."
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Earlier this summer, the Nunavut government in partnership with Nunavut Tunngavik and Embrace Life Council unveiled a $35 million, five-year suicide prevention plan.
It focuses on building a program at the community level, instead of leaving all the legwork to the territorial government.
The plan dedicates $16 million to community programs, large or small, that work to prevent suicide — anything from mental health services and prenatal care to early childhood education.
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"It opens the dialogue about what changes we can make among ourselves to become healthy individuals, which in turn turns into healthy communities," said Michael.
The pathways are there once you've asked for help.- Rachel Michael, Embrace Life Council
Events planned all day
There are various activities taking place throughout Sunday in Iqaluit as part of Embrace Life Day, such as a free swim at the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre and free time on the turf at the Arctic Winter Games sports centre.
The annual Embrace Life Day walk takes place at 6 p.m. Anyone interested is asked to meet at the Inuksuk High School to walk the Ring Road.
Following the walk, the school will host a concert by Nick Sherman, an Indigenous artist from Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Tickets are $10 for youth, aged 13-18 and $20 for adults. Opening artist Colleen Nakashuk will perform original Inuktitut songs with her ukelele.
The concert is Sherman's first show in an Embrace Life Tour that will also head to Arviat, Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet and Igloolik, with a final concert in Cape Dorset.
Simeon Mikkungwak, MLA for Baker Lake, said many communities are planning — or have already done — suicide awareness walks.
Just prior to the one in Baker Lake this year, two young people took their lives, one of whom was closely related to Mikkungwak.
"It really hit our community," he said, adding the deaths underscored the importance of the walk and awareness around suicide.
"We all struggle in life. We all go through hardships," he said.
"There are some bad days here and there but … I encourage people to try and have hope in life. There is always hope."
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts is urged to contact their health centre or call Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Helpline at 1-800- 265-3333.
There is also the Kids Help Phone line where you can speak to a counsellor. The toll-free number, 1-800-668-6868, is available 24 hours a day.
With files from Michelle Pucci