New support group connects Nunavut 'suicide survivors' in Iqaluit

Tuesday night, people who have lost loved ones to suicide will meet in Iqaluit to let each other know they're 'not alone in this world.'

'It allows me to realize that I'm not alone in this world, trying to face this kind of hardship'

Joanasie Akumalik says hearing other people talk about their grief allows him to know he's not the only one 'trying to face this kind of hardship.' (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nunavut's Embrace Life Council is hoping a simple idea will have a powerful effect. 

The group is organizing a new bereavement support group in Iqaluit, where people who have lost a loved one to suicide can meet to share their stories and reach out for help.

"Everyone will have an opportunity to speak," said Kimberly Masson, the executive director of the Embrace Life Council. 

"Everyone will have an opportunity to perhaps light a candle in tribute to a lost loved one from suicide and everyone will have an opportunity to grieve and share." 
Kimberly Masson, the executive director of the Embrace Life Council, says the purpose of the bereavement support group is to let people know they are not alone. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

It's by no means a secret that Inuit take their own lives at a rate that far outstrips the national average — according to Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, as much as 25 times higher. 

But that statistic hides the real number of those who are affected by the suicide crisis. 

It's 'powerful' to know you're not alone

Joanasie Akumalik says he felt numb and alone for the first 48 hours after his son Clyde's death, but talking about his grief has made things easier. 

"I think my story provided openness for others to start speaking about what kind of hardship they went through," he said. 

And speaking to other families has, in turn, helped him.

"It allows me to realize that I'm not alone in this world, trying to face this kind of hardship."

Akumalik also says there are triggers — like when another young person takes their own life or the media runs a story about suicide — that bring back the painful memory of finding his son in 2013.

Reminding people there are other survivors out there is a truly "powerful" tool in the ongoing grief process, Masson says.

The Embrace Life Council says if the support group is a success, it is willing to hold meetings as often as once a week. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

'We have to get it started'

During last fall's suicide inquest, Akumalik and others made passionate pleas for just this kind of community-led support.

Masson says the idea of the group has come up "time and time again," since Nunavut's first suicide prevention strategy was created. 

"We've really sort of struggled in some ways with how we should present it and how we should get it started," she said. 

"But we decided ultimately that we have to get it started."

Masson and a mental health worker have both been trained as facilitators and will guide the conversation when needed, but she says the group's purpose is to let people share whatever they need to. 

And if you just want to listen, you can do that too. 

First meeting Tuesday

The pilot meeting is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Iqaluit's Elders' Qammaq and Masson says there will be refreshments and simultaneous translation in English and Inuktitut.

"If people are feeling like this is maybe not for them, they can call [the Embrace Life office] 975-3233," said Masson.

She adds that the simple act of listening to other people affected by suicide might have a surprising impact.

"Sometimes we know we're not alone, but it's not until we hear another person's story that it really resonates with us," Masson said. 

"There are other people struggling and other people grieving."

After Tuesday's meeting, Masson says her organization will ask people how it went and if they'd like it to continue. 

She says Embrace Life is ready to run meetings as often as once a week and hopes to be able to eventually expand the meetings to other Nunavut communities.