Talking suicide in Nunavut: Helpline says listening can help heal

Suicide has been declared a crisis in Nunavut and a coroner's inquest was held looking into the issue. Now the territory is in the midst of a one-year prevention strategy aiming to improve mental health services.

Territory marked World Suicide Prevention Day Saturday night

Dozens turned out for the annual Embrace Life walk on Saturday night in Iqaluit. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Sheila Levy hears countless stories of personal loss and struggle, and says that's the best thing to do when someone is in crisis: just listen.

"So many people feel if they are feeling suicidal, they don't know where to turn," said Levy, executive director of the 24-hour Kamatsiaqtut Help Line.

"Once they can talk about that then they can move on to finding ways to live."

Levy, who also serves as the vice president of the Embrace Life Council, joined dozens of people in Iqaluit Saturday night marking World Suicide Prevention Day.

The group, which walked across the capital's downtown in an annual event to raise awareness for suicide prevention, rebranded the day as Embrace Life Day.

Suicide touches many within the territory; it's been declared a crisis, a coroner's inquest was held looking into the issue and now the territory is in the midst of a one-year prevention strategy, aiming to improve mental health services.

Nunavut's Member of Parliament Hunter Tootoo has shared his personal experiences dealing with suicide. He recently revealed he attempted to take his own life as a teenager. He joined the walk Saturday in support of the Embrace Life Council.

"I survived it. A lot of people out there haven't. A lot of people out there are suffering as a result of that. It's important to bring awareness," Tootoo said.

Open your eyes, ears and hearts

The walk was part of a day of events culminating in a concert headlined by the music group, Twin Flames.

The concert is part of a Mental Health Awareness Tour across Nunavut.

One of the songs performed by Twin Flames frontman Jaaji was "about my brother being happy."

He told the audience his brother died by suicide before he finished writing the song. He completed it on the day of his brother's funeral.

"I thought he was okay. Even when he told me he wasn't," Jaaji said.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, we close our eyes, which we shouldn't. We should leave our eyes and ears and hearts open."

The Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is available 24/7 for anonymous support: 1­-800-­265­-3333.

For help in Inuktitut call 1­-888-­331-4433, or visit your community health centre.