It should not be the destiny of the Inuit to suffer the rest of their lives with astronomically high rates of suicide.
Without government intervention, however, this destructive trend cannot be reversed. The government of Nunavut is to be congratulated for its long-awaited suicide prevention strategy, tabled last week in the legislature.
But change will not happen unless the government acts swiftly and energetically to implement the eight recommended interventions - if necessary with a cash infusion from Ottawa. A centre of excellence in mental health must be built in Iqaluit. Why wouldn't a jurisdiction with a suicide rate for 15- to 24-year-old men 28 times higher than the national rate not have its own treatment centre?
The suicide prevention strategy took 18 months to develop, penned by a working group of RCMP officials, and government and land claims representatives. It will go a long way to removing the stigma associated with a problem that is so commonplace that people use threats of suicide to manipulate family and friends, and yet have trouble discussing self-harm in public.
The youth of Nunavut cannot wait 18 more months for the government to act. It must launch public campaigns against physical and sexual assault; anger management classes for youth; parenting and early childhood programs; and suicide intervention training.
It is not ethnicity that drives this mental health crisis. Suicide was relatively low among the Inuit until after the coerced movement of the Inuit into settled communities in the 1950s. Only through immediate government action can the subpopulation that suffers from high rates of mental distress become healthy again.
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