Bell, Northwestel announce funding for new suicide prevention program

Two major telecommunications companies have announced funding to bring a new mental health program to Nunavut that trains people to recognize when someone is having suicidal thoughts, and offer help.

6-time Olympic gold medallist Clara Hughes inspires students, announces money for safeTALK program

Olympic medallist and mental health advocate Clara Hughes with Annie Kootoo at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit for Bell Let's Talk and Northwestel's suicide prevention funding announcement. (Michael Salomonie)

Two major telecommunications companies -— Bell and Northwestel -— have announced funding to bring a new mental health program to Nunavut that trains people to recognize when someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and offer help.

Bell Let's Talk spokesperson Clara Hughes announced $250,000 for safeTALK at Iqaluit's Inuksuk High School Wednesday. The four-time Olympian has been outspoken about overcoming her own battles with depression and is a mental health advocate.

Achaleena Mandal, one of many students at the presentation, said she was impressed by Hughes' visit. "The fact that she came up here means that our identity is being seen, and that help is coming and we can heal from that." 

SafeTALK is a half-day of training that prepares anyone over the age of 15 to become a suicide alert helper. SafeTALK helpers learn to recognize the signs that someone is suicidal, and how to connect them with mental health resources that could save their life.

"We know that most people who are thinking about ending their lives give warning signs of their intentions," said Mary Deacon, program chair of Bell's mental health initiative. The idea is to give communities the ability to spot the warning signs and direct people to help as quickly as possible, she said.

The program will be delivered by Nunavut's Embrace Life Council, a non-profit suicide prevention organization.

Nunavut's suicide rate is approximately 10 times higher than Canada's national average. The rate among young Inuit males aged 15-29 is 40 times the national average.

The suicide of a 13-year-old girl in Pangnirtung in 2013 prompted Nunavut's chief coroner Padma Surmala to call for a state of emergency. A record number of deaths by suicide that year lead to a coroner's inquest into Nunavut's surging suicide numbers.

The $250,000 is part of a $1 million funding commitment Bell Let's Talk and Northwestel have made to mental health programs in the North.

This includes money for the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, which provides confidential counselling in Inuktitut and English.

On January 25, Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for every text message, mobile call and long distance call made by its customers.

with files from Michael Salomonie