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Iqaluit's Rachel Michael, 20, ready to raise mental health awareness in Nunavut

She may be just 20 years old, but Rachel Michael is looking to make a difference for the mental health of Nunavummiut. After completing a month of training, Michael is set to head to different communities to train others in mental health services.

Important that people people are educated on what is real from myths around mental illness

Rachel Michael works at a desk at the Ilinniapaa Campus where she is a community literacy outreach worker. She has just completed training in mental health first aid and suicide prevention. (Angela Hill/CBC)

She may be just 20 years old, but Rachel Michael is looking to make a difference for the mental health of Nunavummiut. 

To that end, the community outreach worker just finished a month of training, allowing her to train others in Mental Health First Aid, ASIST and Safe Talk practices.

"The emphasis in the training was to build capacity in the community, to break the stigma and to allow people the easy access to education around mental health and the different disorders that someone might be experiencing," she said, from her office at Ilinniapaa Campus in Iqaluit.

The programs are designed to teach people about suicide and "how to be aware of it and how to take action to help someone reach other help," she said.

While her full time job is a community literacy outreach worker, Michael said she wanted to do more, especially for youth.

Michael said by training people in communities, they can create a movement that can help people with mental illness or suicidal thoughts.

"We'll have more people in the community that can help that person, so that we don't feel alone."

Michael said that it is particularly important to combat the stigma and many myths around mental illness in the territory's communities. Her own experiences, combined with a passion for helping others learn, made her a natural fit to help take the lead.

"I personally suffer from a mental illness," Michael said.

"[I've] lost a lot of family and people I love to suicide, so I thought it was really important to bring some change into the community and be an advocate for myself and others."

Her skills are in demand. Since completing her training, Michael has already been scheduled to train in three communities across Nunavut. 

Michael said her grandmother, Martha Michael, instilled in her a sense of perseverance and resilience.

"She's really taught me to see the bright side of everything," she said. "And in the darkest and coldest of days in Nunavut, what really keeps me warm is knowing our ancestors survived on the land and kept going, and that's why we are here."

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