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Suicide a common issue in the North
Many organizations offer counselling services

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 19, 2013

Suicides and attempts are far too common in the North and that must change, say Inuvik-based organizations.

NNSL photo/graphic

Doug Robertson of the Aurora Campus was one of the speakers during the World Suicide Prevention Day gathering at Chief Jim Koe Park on Sept. 10. He discussed the many organizations in town that can offer counselling. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

Nearly a dozen groups banded together Sept. 10 to mark World Suicide Prevention Day at Chief Jim Koe Park. At least 100 people gathered to share some poignant stories of struggles and triumphs.

One of those people was Inuvik Mayor Floyd Roland, who spoke from the heart about his struggles with depression over the course of many years.

From a young age, Roland said, he felt the pressure of "being the man of the family" and the stresses periodically wore him down.

He encouraged everyone present to seek assistance with their own mental health issues and to offer a helping hand to others.

Sometimes even a simple "how are you" can make a huge difference for someone battling their demons and the stresses of life, he said.

Many different organizations in Inuvik offer counselling services, said Doug Robertson, the director of Aurora Campus. He was one of the main speakers at the event, which was organized mainly by the Inuvik Youth Centre, with assistance from multiple other organizations.

Ali McConnell, the co-ordinator at the youth centre, said "we wanted to build awareness of the various support services that are available and to make sure everyone knows there are people around if they need help."

The list is a lengthy one for Inuvik. McConnell listed "community counselling, community wellness, social services, the Inuvik Youth Centre, East Three school, Resolution Health Support, and programs through the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Gwich'in Tribal Council.

"We've got a pretty high rate (of suicide)," she added.

Robertson said "suicide is much more common than anyone would like to admit.

"I don't know that there are any hard stats, but the estimate is that, world wide, about five per cent of people will attempt to kill themselves during their lifetime," he said. "We know from Canadian stats that incidents of suicide in the North are way higher than the south.

"We can kind of extrapolate from there that it's a much higher incidence that five per cent."

As Robertson said, it's uncommon to hear suicides discussed openly in public or acknowledged. That's largely because there's still a considerable stigma attached to the action.

"Some suicides likely go undetected and unreported," he said. "So the stats we know about aren't the whole picture."

He said there are many theories as to why suicide is so much more common in the North, ranging for Seasonal Affective Disorder to the residential school legacy and a disconnection from traditional lifestyles and the land.

"The answer is likely a combination of all of them," Robertson said.

Part of the awareness day was to draw attention to the many and varied services available in Inuvik, he said.

"There are lots of resources, so it's a matter of connecting people at the moment that they're in crisis," he said.

Donald Prince, a staff member at the Beaufort-Delta Health and Social Services Authority, said "it's a huge issue.

"We want to let the community know there are people who can help, that there are people who are trained and skilled to be part of a help network. They don't have to try to handle it themselves."

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