Minister worries NWT’s mental health supports aren’t always accessed

Last modified: October 4, 2022 at 4:32pm


The NWT’s health minister says she is concerned that some of the territory’s residents are not seeking help for mental health issues.

Julie Green, responding to the publication of updated statistics on suicide in the NWT, said she worried about both an increase in residents reporting mental health concerns and “many residents out there who don’t seek help for mental health issues.”

“There are programs available to help them, no matter the complexity of their situation,” Green said in a written statement.

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“The territorial government is offering more mental health support services than ever before. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health challenges, please reach out for help; you are not alone.”

The NWT Help Line is available at any time of day or night on 1-800-661-0844. Kids Help Phone is also available around the clock at 1-800-668-6868 or you can use live chat or text options instead of calling. If you’re trying to help someone who is talking about suicide, the GNWT has a list of resources.

Be aware that the remainder of this report discusses the statistics and Green’s response in more detail.

On Monday, the coroner’s office took the unusual step of releasing an early summary of suicide statistics, expressing concern that the numbers are higher than anticipated.

Eighteen suicides have been recorded across the NWT in 2022 to date, compared to 11 recorded suicides in the NWT in 2021.

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In 2021, one suicide was recorded in the Beaufort Delta. This year, there have been eight in the same region.

“We released the data just so that everybody is aware of it and maybe they can make a response to it, and try to figure out why we’re having this jump in the numbers,” NWT chief coroner Garth Eggenberger told Cabin Radio on Monday.

“What we’re trying to do is bring attention to the number here so that the government can make a response, the towns and hamlets can make a response.”

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Green wrote on Tuesday that Eggenberger’s numbers were “alarming” and showed the devastating impact of suicide in small communities.

She cited the example of Tuktoyaktuk, which has reported four suicides this year.

“Our government is working directly with impacted communities to provide support to residents as they grieve. We are working closely with the community of Tuktoyaktuk, as they have experienced significant loss in recent months,” Green stated.

“We are also meeting with community members, including youth, to hear about the needs of communities and to determine together what supports are needed.”

People and families ‘in crisis’

In the past, Green has faced criticism in the territory’s legislature for her perceived reluctance to state that the territory faces a mental health crisis.

In May this year, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby – with whom Green has regularly sparred in the legislature – said the minister had “denied what is blatantly obvious to most residents of this territory: that we are in a mental health crisis.”

Nokleby was referring to a February statement from Green who, asked by Nokleby to admit that a mental health crisis was occurring, said in part that she was “confident that we’re not facing anything that we can’t deal with.” (Green later insisted the whole of her response provided more context.)

This week, Green returned to the phrase in her written statement.

“I am aware that many people and families are in a state of mental health crisis,” the minister wrote.

“It pains me that so many of our friends, loved ones, and community members are struggling. We are, together, experiencing great change. Change caused by a global pandemic. Change to our climate.

“But long before we faced these collective challenges, Indigenous people of the NWT were subjected to changes that profoundly altered the lives of themselves, their families and communities. Residential schools are perhaps the most glaring example of how colonialism created trauma.

“I am sensitive to this intergenerational pain that affects mental health, and I am personally committed to working with communities and Indigenous governments to help all people find their way back to health and wellness.”

‘I care about this’

Eggenberger, in releasing the figures on Monday, told Cabin Radio one of his primary aims was to help equip families to support loved ones who are thinking of suicide.

“In most cases, there is an indication ahead of time that somebody is thinking about it. And if they’re talking about it, then they definitely need help – and not only for the time that they’re talking about it, but ongoing help so that they realize that life is worth living,” Eggenberger said.

“That’s really my message. Life is worth living. You might be at a low point now, but things will change. It takes work and support, but things will change.”

Green provided a list of resources in her Tuesday statement and echoed Eggenberger’s sentiment.

“I care about this issue, and I know the GNWT has a significant role in addressing it,” she wrote.

“As well, all residents can play a role by understanding how to help a friend or loved one in crisis. My hope is that together, we can all heal.”