The Current

Iqaluit teens demand more support for people struggling with mental health

Amy Ullikatar says you don’t have to look far in Nunavut to find someone affected by suicide, and she says it’s time government to put more funding toward mental health facilities and solving housing problems there.

Amy Ullikatar says everyone in Nunavut knows someone affected by suicide and it's time for change

Highschool students carried signs like 'suicide is not the answer' and 'mental health matters' as they took to the streets calling for more suicide prevention and mental health support for Nunavummiut. (David Gunn/CBC)

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Amy Ullikatar says it's time for the government to do more to support mental health and suicide prevention programs in Nunavut.

"If you lived here for like a long period of time, I'm pretty sure that you would experience losing a loved one to suicide," Ullikatar told The Current guest host Robyn Bresnahan. 

Ullikatar, 17, was one of many teens that marched to the Nunavut Legislature last week to call on the newly elected government there for more support for people struggling with mental health issues.

She said they specifically need more funding for mental health facilities and to help solve housing problems in the territory. 

Ullikatar said her uncle died from suicide when she was young, and has watched her other uncle struggle to cope with what happened.

"He drinks his pain away. It hurts to see that," she said. "I do want him to get the proper help that he needs to get over his loss."

Students in Iqaluit call for more mental health supports, specifically suicide prevention, for the territory, in a protest on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (David Gunn/CBC)

Deion Pearce, who co-organized the protest at the legislature, wants better access for mental health supports so those struggling don't turn to potentially harmful coping mechanisms first.

"There are new openings like beer and wine stores and weed stores, but there are no new opening mental health facilities," said Pearce, 18.

"We really would love to see a lot more actual Nunavut-based facilities and more permanent professionals that come and live or stay in Nunavut longer."

He says there are a few reasons he thinks there is such a crisis in the territory. He says people there have had to deal with intergenerational trauma, and an ongoing housing crisis.

'We know that things need to change': premier

Nunavut Premier P.J Akeeagok agreed with Pearce, adding that it will require help from all levels of government to make a difference.

"We know that things need to change and that the suicide pandemic can't continue," said Akeeagok. "I very much look forward to preparing our government to truly tackle the root cause."

Akeeagok was chosen as Nunavut's newest premier during the Nunavut Leadership Forum held in the territory's Legislative Assembly last week

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in Iqaluit at the time of the youths' protest. "I want you to know you have been heard," he told them.

P.J. Akeeagok says solving this problem will take all levels of government working together. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

Akeeagok says there are plans to build a new addiction and mental health treatment centre, but it isn't expected to be ready until 2025.  It's a joint project involving the Nunavut government, the federal government, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, which is the legal representative of the Inuit.

He says it will also be important that services respect Inuit language and culture. 

"I truly believe that we have an opportunity in terms of providing services, and that's something as a premier, I will commit to making this a priority," said Akeeagok.

"I very much look forward to working with our partners, both Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated but also with the federal government."

If you're experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, call the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310.

For help in Inuktitut, you can call the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline at 1-867-979-3333 or, toll-free from Nunavik or Nunavut outside Iqaluit, at 1-800-265-3333.

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Ryan Chatterjee and Paul MacInnis.

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