Mental health is a well-known but sensitive issue in Nunavut. Although Kugluktuk has a psychiatric nurse in Alpheus Mansaray, who began working in the community in March 2017, his list of clients wasn’t long upon his arrival.
Mansaray decided that a drop-in program would be a good way for adults to socialize and also get to know him on a personal level in a friendly and comfortable setting.
“I’ve seen how a drop-in centre can be very useful for (addressing) mental health issues. I was very passionate about it,” he said.
He took the idea to Kugluktuk’s inter-agency group, representing various organizations, including the hamlet and the Government of Nunavut. Suicide prevention programming was subsequently obtained.
The drop-in program started out slowly in late October with low attendance once a week at the youth centre. Soup, sandwiches and country food were introduced. Activities like ping-pong, pool and cribbage were added, garnering more interest. Due to increasing attendance, a second day was added. The drop-in sessions now take place on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons from 1:30-3:30 p.m.
“Everything just took off… we have a good time. We socialize,” Mansaray said, adding that drop-in attendance shot up to 40 to 50 people, from young adults to elders. “My workload has increased because there are people I’m seeing now that I wouldn’t have been able to see because of the stigma attached to mental health. There are (clients) who never would have come to me had it not been for that setting.”
School-community counsellor Kenny Taptuna helps facilitate by presenting cultural components during a psycho-social hour that examines aspects of well-being. A youth outreach worker and men’s program facilitator are also on hand.
“We’ve created a positive environment,” said Jodi Alderson, coordinator of the Moving Forward Together Program, an inter-agency partner. “We also have a space in an office for people to do one-on-one if they need individual counselling or mental health support. So it’s got multiple elements.”
However, she noted that some participants are there simply to partake in the meal and enjoy the socialization, which is fine because there’s no obligation to sign up for counselling. Socialization is healthy in itself, Alderson said.
Mansaray acknowledged that his commitment to a two-year contract in Kugluktuk means that he has time to establish trust, as opposed to casual staff who come and go quickly.
“I really want to build a relationship with the community,” he said.
He added that he’s hopeful drop-in funding will be extended beyond March 31.
“It’s a very beneficial program to the community. I just hope we keep it,” he said.
Alderson suggested that other Nunavut communities may want to consider such a model.
“It’s a better way of engaging people to access mental health services,” she said. “Basically we’re bringing people out that wouldn’t normally access any of those services and it’s going really well. It’s nice to see.”