Inuvik took to the streets to raise awareness about suicide Sept. 10 as the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) announced plans to establish a Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy in the coming months.
It was all part of the region’s participation in World Suicide Prevention Day. The World Health Organization estimates an average of 800,000 people die by suicide every year. Statistics Canada lists suicide as the ninth biggest killer in the country and the Northwest Territories has the second highest rate of suicide in the country, next to Nunavut. Yukon territory has the third highest rate.
As part of his announcement of the strategy, IRC chair Duane Ningaqsiq Smith noted 24-hour hotlines were helpful but simply not enough to curb the rate of suicide.
“The strategy is in the beginning stages of development and is intended to be largely informed by Inuvialuit in our region,” he wrote. “In the coming months IRC will be conducting interviews with front-line staff, elders, leadership and anyone else who would like to be included – to help inform the development of the strategy. The strategy will focus on recommendations and actions so we will be able to use it to inform future programming, advocate for funding and advocate for improved government services.
“Inuvialuit have had to overcome many adverse experiences in our lives. By working together, supporting one another and turning to our Elders for guidance – we will continue to thrive. IRC’s Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy will be influenced by culture and cultural practices. I encourage all of you to turn to your Elders, drum dancing, the land, the language, sewing etc. to help us through difficult times as we know we can find healing in our rich and vibrant Inuvialuit culture.”
Meanwhile, a march from the Inuvik Native Band office to Ingamo Hall honoured the memory of loved ones lost to suicide. A barbecue and candlelight vigil followed throughout the afternoon, ending in a “Safe Talk” workshop in the evening. A memory tree was set up for people to decorate in memory of their loved ones.
Mental Health Awareness Working Group organizer Cynthia Kiy said it was important to get past the stigma of suicide, noting that talking about suicide was a huge part of the effort to prevent it.
“If we can bring the issue forward for people to be able to talk about, then maybe we can prevent some suicides,” she said. “We really want to try and be there for people and raise awareness so the people who are left behind also don’t have to feel shamed or embarrassed.”
Inuvik Justice Committee victims services support worker Eva Kratochvil said having suicidal thoughts was more common than most people thought.
She noted reaching out was important because most people have had difficult times and can relate.
“It’s not something that’s hidden you have to be ashamed about,” she said. “Feelings are so intense, if we can help people get through those moments of intensity. There are others who have felt the same.”
Many of the organizers were motivated by personal reasons.
Kiy noted she had felt the pain of losing a loved one to suicide personally, and said she herself was left wondering if there was anything she could have done.
“I’ve worked people for a long time, but this year I had to put a leaf on the memory tree,” she said. “I had a dear friend that I had just seen, who completed suicide the night I saw that person. My first thought was ‘What did I miss?’ ‘Why didn’t the person feel comfortable enough to tell me?’
“It really leaves some pain for the people who are left behind.”
If you feel suicidal and feel like there is no hope, help is available. Contact a friend, family member or if not able to, call one of these 24-hour phone lines.
• Hope for Wellness Helpline 1-855-242-3310
• Canada Suicide Prevention Service 1-833-456-4566 or text or chat @crisisservicescanada.ca
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
• NWT Helpline 1-800-661-0844 and on facebook
• Kids Helpline 1-800-668-6868 or crisis text 686868