Nunavut francophones hesitant to ask for help with mental health matters, report says

Résefan identified mental health and addiction as a 'major issue' for the francophone community in Nunavut, and identified obstacles to treatment in the territory.

Résefan identified mental health and addiction as a 'major issue' for the francophone community

At the Qikiqtani Hospital, services in French and Inuktitut are difficult to access, according to the report 'Needs of Francophones Living in Nunavut: Mental Health and Addictions'. (CBC)

Nunavut francophones aren't seeking help for their mental health needs thanks to a lack of services in French, and a feeling among francophones that their Inuit neighbours have a greater need for resources.

This is according to a new report from Résefan, Nunavut's French health network. The May 29 report, 'Needs of Francophones Living in Nunavut: Mental Health and Addictions,' reviews the state of mental health care in the territory for its francophone residents.

It is not the first time the lack of health resources in the territory's minority languages has been raised as a problem.

Résefan cites a report by Nunavut's language commissioner on services available at the Qikiqtani Hospital, "If You Cannot Communicate With Your Patient, Your Patient Is Not Safe," which was released in May 2016.

French language services 'practically non-existent'

Résefan says that services in French and Inuktitut are "practically non-existent and that staff must often rely upon unofficial interpreters."

When it comes to treating mental health issues, the report said this situation presents "risks by compromising the correctness of [a] diagnosis as well as the detection of disorganized thought or delusions." Unofficial interpreters also degrade the patient's right to confidentiality, especially in small Northern communities.

The report goes on to describe the French population as older than the territory's average age, adding that many are unaware of what services are available in French.

Francophones also do not want to infringe on what may be limited resources available for their Inuit neighbours.

"There are no services available for Inuit who seem to have more problems, so Francophones do not ask for services since it feels as though they are taking their resources," the report states.

Mental health 'major issue' for Nunavut's francophones

According to the 2011 Census, around 450 people or 1.4 per cent of Nunavut's population list French as their first language and most of them have migrated from other Canadian provinces.

Most, or approximately 315, of the territory's francophones live in Iqaluit.
The territory's French population is concentrated in Iqaluit. Pictured is the French school Ecole des Trois Soleils in the capital. (Shaun Malley/CBC)

Résefan identified mental health and addiction as a "major issue" for the small community.

It characterizes the community as transient, feeling "isolated" from its southern network, and dealing with environmental and cultural shock.

Suicide prevention

The report says the Government of Nunavut's work to address the territory's suicide crisis is essential, and that action items from Nunavut's suicide prevention plan can be adapted to meet francophone needs.

It suggests incorporating steps like awareness campaigns and telemedicine to connect with out-of-province services.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel, we want to take advantage of this momentum, of the increased mobilization that will provide better access to mental health services for all Nunavummiut."