Nunavut to mine medical data in battle against suicide

The Government of Nunavut is hoping patient data will help the territory come up with better ways to battle its suicide crisis.

Territorial government hiring a mental health epidemiologist to analyze patient information

A suicide prevention summit in Iqaluit last week brought together people from across the territory, including elders, suicide treatment organizations and government officials. (Lucy Burke/CBC News)

The Government of Nunavut plans to collect and analyze patients' medical data to help the territory come up with better ways to prevent suicide.

Following a suicide prevention summit in Iqaluit last week, attention now turns to the development of a five-year action plan scheduled to roll out next year. Part of it will rely on data collected by the territory's department of health.

To evaluate the data, the health department is hiring a mental health epidemiologist.

"We collect the medical charts, an epidemiologist goes through them so we can have a big picture idea of what is the prevalence of depression, suicidal ideation, schizophrenia," said Karen Kilikvak Kabloona, Nunavut's associate deputy minister for quality of life.

"A lot of the data that will inform better decision making and evaluation."

Solving a crisis

Last week's summit was part of a one-year action plan by the territory in response to a 2015 coroner's inquest on Nunavut's suicide crisis. Inuit in Nunavut take their own lives at nearly 10 times the rate of average Canadians.

Karen Kilikvak Kabloona says the territory is in the process of hiring a mental health epidemiologist. (submitted by Karen Kilikvak Kabloona)

The three-day summit focused on highlighting successful suicide prevention strategies across Nunavut's communities, like a youth hunting program in Cape Dorset.

"It gave us very good information about preventing a suicide," said James Eetoolook, the vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI). 

"It's a very emotional thing to talk about because it's effecting everybody. But we have to do it. We have to come up with a plan to reduce or eliminate suicide in Nunavut."

Collaborative effort

The summit brought together around 100 people from across the territory, including elders, suicide treatment organizations and government officials. 

"Often the police are one of the first responders to a situation and when we get to those calls we don't know often what's the cause of it," said RCMP V Division Chief Supt. Michael Jeffrey. 

"So it's for us to understand we have to take more time to find out why the person is in distress and then being able to direct them to the right type of service."

Trying again

Holding the summit was one step towards developing a long-term plan, the second time Nunavut has implemented such a strategy to combat suicide. The previous one was panned for failing to reach its goals.

"There was a lot of stuff in the previous action plan that wasn't completely measurable and stuff that wasn't realistic [to do] in that time frame," said David Lawson, the president of Embrace Life Council. 

"So what we're looking to bring forward now is what can we do in the five years realistically and complete."

If you are grappling with suicide in Nunavut, call the anonymous and confidential Kamatsiaqtut Help Line at (867) 979-3333 or (800) 265-3333.

You can also call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800 668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.