Patients decry Nunavut's lack of French mental health services

Iqaluit's francophone residents are struggling with access to mental health services in their mother tongue, an issue that's affected one Nunavut resident for more than a decade.

Nunavut's French health network says there's a gap in the territory's French mental health services

'When it comes to emotion it turns you upside down,' says one francophone resident of Iqaluit. 'And you want to go back to what you know best, which is your mother tongue.' (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Iqaluit's francophone residents are struggling with access to mental health services in their mother tongue, an issue that's affected one Nunavut resident for more than a decade.

The woman, who asked not to be named due to the stigma associated with mental health issues in such a close knit community, typically speaks strong English — but when the subject matter takes an emotional turn, she starts fumbling her words.

"I don't even know how to talk to you about that," she says, unable to find the right words to express her struggle with accessing mental health services in Iqaluit.

"When it comes to emotion it turns you upside down and you want to go back to what you know best which is your mother tongue," she says breaking into tears.

The woman says that she and her family have been struggling to access French language services for over a decade — from medical services at the hospital to family counselling — and, at every step, there's been barriers.

"When you're arguing in couples' counselling with your husband, and you both normally speak French to each other but the therapist only speaks English, and you have to filter everything to the therapist in English, it's so awkward," she says.

The woman says she often feels there's "an emotional language barrier" between her and anglophone mental health workers.

"Angry, happy and sad are not the only three emotions in English," she says, "but that's the only three I fully know."

Working on it

'In regards to mental health we found that there’s nothing right now,' says Carin Chalut, who works with the Réseau Santé en Francais au Nunavut. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Nunavut's French Health Network says there are a major lack of French services in the territory's health system, especially when it comes to mental health care.

The comments come after Nunavut's languages commissioner slammed the Qikiqtani General Hospital earlier this week for its poor record serving people in Inuktitut and French.

"In regards to mental health, we found that there's nothing right now, so it's something that we're going to be working again with the department hopefully to address,"  says Carin Chalut, who works with the Réseau Santé en Francais au Nunavut.

The group recently hosted community consultations to gather information on the issue, says Chalut, and will be publishing a report in a few months.

"We are very creative, we want to bring solutions that are not going to put unnecessary difficulties for the system," she says.

Chalut says there are a couple people that can evaluate cases in French, but francophone psychiatric services are few and far between.

Emergency services available, says government

The Government of Nunavut says that in case of a mental health emergency, patients can get assistance in French and Inuktitut at the Qikiqtani General Hospital.

"There are Inuktitut clerk interpreters all the time right now at the hospital that can assist in that, there are nurses and physicians who are receiving the French bilingual bonus who could assist in an emergency as well," says Karen Kabloona, acting deputy minister for the territory's health department.

Kabloona also says the hospital is working on hiring a French interpreter, and there is at least one francophone counsellor available in Iqaluit.


Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.