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Nunavut suicides reach record numbers

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

A record number of people took their own lives in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut in 2013, yet young people in the territory say they’re not getting the mental health support they need.

In 2013 at least 45 people died by suicide in Nunavut, according to the territory’s chief coroner. Most were young men. That’s the highest number recorded since the territory was created in 1999.

But young people who want to get help say they’re not satisfied with what’s available. One young woman told CBC News she went to the local health center for help but was directed to the church. Then the church directed her back to the health center.

Linda Airut says the same thing happened to her. She is from the Nunavut community of Igloolik but now lives in Toronto.

“They only wanted to report the cops on me. I didn’t want to talk to the cops,” Airut said. “They wanted to help only if there was something serious, like cut my arm or something, like they would want to see if I’m mentally ill.”

Kelly Fraser, who is from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, and now lives in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, said she got support after her father took his life. She says she developed a trusting relationship with that counselor but then he moved away.

Elders have also been helpful, but Fraser said when some young people try to get professional help it’s not always available.

“If it’s someone that isn’t equipped or professionally trained with that kind of thing, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable being directed,” she said.

CBC News asked to speak to Nunavut’s health department, but a spokesperson said no representative was immediately available.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.