Inuk artist stands by plea for state of emergency over suicides in Nunavik

Inuk singer Beatrice Deer says hiring six new health professionals is a good first step to respond to Nunavik's suicide crisis, but she says there should be one for each of the 15 villages in Quebec's far north.

'I hope the workers stay long enough for us to see an impact,' says singer Beatrice Deer

The northern village of Kuujjuaq has been the site of a number of recent suicides. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

Over the past week, Beatrice Deer has been hearing from many people: someone who lost a family member to suicide, a mayor, her boss.

The 33-year-old Inuk singer's plea to elected leaders in Nunavik, the Inuit territory in Quebec's far north, to declare a state of emergency over a rash of recent suicides has touched a chord with some. 

In a statement from the ministry's communications officer, Quebec says it has agreed the region can have six new mental health professionals.
Singer Beatrice Deer says each of Nunavik's 15 villages should have a permanent psychologist. (Robert Fréchette)

However, it's not paying for those new resources. 

Nunavik's own agencies will be responsible for those hired: a grief specialist, two psychologists, a social worker, a school counsellor and a crisis consultant.

Deer said she's happy Quebec's Ministry of Health has approved increasing the number of health care workers. 

She says it's not enough, however. Deer is calling for one psychologist for every one of Nunavik's 15 communities.

7 more suicides since March

More staff for mental health care was part of the official request from the Nunavik Board of Health, the Kativik School Board and the northern village of Kuujjuaq last March.

At that time, five people in one village had recently taken their own lives. Since then, there have been seven more suicides in three different communities.

"I just hope that it's going to last, until we see results from our people," said Deer. "Until we see a positive impact, and I know that takes a long time. 

No need for state of emergency, province says

Quebec's Health Ministry has issued a statement saying the suicide crisis in Nunavik does not fit the criteria to declare a state of emergency, because those new resources are on the way.

Lucie Charlebois, the province's junior health minister, oversees this issue. She was not available for comment yesterday or today. 

The office of Lucie Charlebois, Quebec's junior health minister, says there's no need to declare a state of emergency in Nunavik because six additional mental health professionals have been hired. (Radio-Canada)

In a statement from the communications team, the ministry said a state of emergency is only issued following a biological, chemical or physical disaster or when needs, specifically in terms of staffing, are not adequate.

The ministry also said it appointed a crisis team last December after the first suicide.

No one from the Nunavik Health Board was immediately available for an interview to say when the new professionals will begin working.

Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line: 1-800-265-3333 (Every night, 7:00 p.m. to midnight)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

About the Author

Catou MacKinnon started working for CBC in New Brunswick as a reporter and then as the Maritime Noon correspondent. Since 2004, she's been reporting on stories from all over the province of Quebec.