This report covers issues related to suicide. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours can be reduced with mental health support and treatment, and are not weaknesses or flaws. Details of where to go for help in the NWT are included in this article.
Thursday is World Suicide Prevention Day, and communities across the NWT are hosting a variety of events to show support for those struggling with their mental health.
Suicide has long been an issue in Canada’s North. Statistics from 2018 show the territories had the highest suicide rates in the country.
In 2019, the suicide rate for the NWT was 20.1 per 100,000 people, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention.
Fort Simpson’s mayor, Sean Whelly, said he thinks those statistics are in part attributable to a lack of resources in the North, where accessing professional help and support can be harder.
“Especially the smaller the community, the less there is,” said Whelly.
“So we ourselves have to do as much as we can and help to identify it, and try to be the intervenors before things get too bad.
“It’s not someone else’s issue. It’s the whole community’s issue. We really have to keep on top of it.”
On Thursday evening, the Lı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation is hosting a Walk to Remember at 7pm in memory of those they have lost.
Madison Pilling, tourism coordinator for the First Nation, said the cause is close to the community’s core.
Several years ago, Pilling said, the First Nation lost multiple members of the community in a short period of time.
“That time in our community was really challenging,” she said. “What we really want out of it is just for something like that to never happen again – raising awareness around it to prevent it for the future, but also to remember those who we have lost.”
The ceremony begins with a socially distanced walk from the government docks, where each individual holds a candle as a vigil.
The group will then move to Ehdaa, the traditional Dene meeting place, where community members will participate in a fire-feeding ceremony – a traditional Dene practice.
“It’s just a good way for people to speak to the Creator and the Land, and those that are gone,” Pilling said.
‘We lose touch’
Farther north, in Tuktoyaktuk, the local community counselling program is hosting a similar event.
At 5pm on Thursday, community members are invited to join a walk through the hamlet followed by a presentation outside the health centre about how to identify someone at risk. All participants are asked to wear a mask.
Okey Ikewibe is Tuktoyaktuk’s child and youth counsellor. He told Cabin Radio events such as this let community members know help is there if they need it – all they have to do is ask.
“Sometimes, we lose touch about mental health,” he said. “[There’s this idea of] mental health, it’s like you’re crazy and you have to talk to a counsellor [or] you have to talk to a certain person.
“But you can reiterate and remind people that no, your best friend could be your lifeline at that moment, that it’s OK to talk to that person because you trust them.
“It’s also letting them know that resources are available as well. We always highlight that, but sometimes people don’t even have that person to talk to. So therefore, if you have your cellphone, then you could text or talk to somebody.”
‘It is OK to talk’
Creating a safe space for people to talk about these issues is a priority for the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC), too.
“Our communities have experienced loss and trauma,” Crystal Milligan, manager of health and wellness for the GTC, said. “We’re wanting to raise that awareness that suicide is something that is preventable, and that we can work together to prevent it.”
To highlight this message, the GTC will distribute candles in Aklavik from the resolution health support program office. At 8pm on Thursday, community members are encouraged to light a candle in their window to show support for suicide prevention and survivors, or to remember a lost loved one.
“It is OK to talk about it,” Milligan reiterated. “Talking about the issues that we face is something that will bring us together and give us the support and strength to deal with whatever issues we’re tackling head-on.
“We just don’t want people to keep it in if there is anyone who is experiencing anything, and they need help. We want them to reach out, either to the resolution health support program, others on the health and wellness team at the GTC, or other resources that are available in the NWT such as the community counselling program, or NWT Helpline, or Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation.
“We are here to listen, and we would like to be able to create that safe space so that people can get the help they need.”
Who can help in the NWT?
Community counsellors are available in nearly every community across the territory. To find contact information for the counsellor in their community, residents can check here: https://www.hss.gov.nt.ca/en/contact/community-counsellor
The NWT Help Line is available 24/7 for residents to call and is free and confidential. To speak with someone, call 1-800-661-0844.
Kid’s Help Phone is available 24/7 for young people. To talk to someone, call 1-800-668-6868, use live chat at www.kidshelpphone.ca, or text 686868.
Crisis Services Canada is a national network of distress, crisis, and suicide prevention services, To speak to someone or learn more about available resources, call 1-833-456-4566, available 24/7, or text 45645 between 4pm-12am EST.
All services are free of charge and confidential. Read more: Where to get help in the NWT
Sarah Sibley contributed reporting.