Too many of our people in Labrador are dying from suicide. A new study by Pollock, Mulay, Valcour and Jong 2016 highlights the higher levels of suicide in Labrador, in comparison to Newfoundland, in all age categories. Innu and Inuit residents in particular are disproportionately affected, and young males and Inuit females even more so again. Yet, this is an issue that is barely spoken about in public, particularly at the municipal level.
In 2013, when I campaigned to be the Mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, this was not an issue that I considered within the responsibilities of the municipal level of government. Yet, when I became Mayor, I realized this was indeed an issue to which I needed to pay attention. I started to receive calls from nervous, scared, devastated, distressed, and traumatized residents wondering what I, as Mayor, could do. I felt sick and worried myself, with the realization I had no formal training in this area or in how to assist people going through such unimaginable experiences.
Our Town sign reads, “it takes a whole community to raise a child.” This serves as a daily reminder that we all have a responsibility to create a community that is inclusive, supportive, and treats its fellow residents with respect and dignity. This extends to mental health and to those who may be suffering from mental health challenges.
Death by suicide is a serious issue across the Canadian North, as well as in other Circumpolar regions (Redvers et al 2015). This summer, I was in Hebron, when Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami launched a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, and national president Natan Obed deserves credit for putting this initiative at the top of his priority list during his first year in office (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 2016). This was an incredibly moving ceremony, and all in attendance were deeply moved.
We all need to take some deep breaths, and start paying attention to each other and how we are all doing. We can all find ways to be healthier mentally and emotionally, and support the mental and emotional health of others. In Labrador, one of the ways that we can do this is connecting with something that many of us enjoy: time on the land with friends and family, enjoying the comfort of this land.
New research from Nunatsiavut suggest that there are specific pathways we may want to consider and be guided by, such as looking to our lands and environment as a healer in all aspects of our lives (Sawatzky et al. 2016). In addition, this research discuss pathways such as building friendships and relationships, learning traditional knowledge, practicing cultural skills, participating in community events, sharing stories, spending time with family and friends, and generally supporting each other.
I end this blog with a poem by Mary Oliver. This poem recently found its way to me from a medical friend and anthropologist and I think it fits well here:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. (2016). National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.itk.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ITK-National-Inuit-Suicide-Prevention-Strategy-2016.pdf
Pollock, N. J., Mulay, S., Valcour, J., & Jong, M. (2016). Suicide Rates in Aboriginal Communities in Labrador, Canada. American Journal of Public Health, 106(7), 1309-1315.
Redvers, J., Bjerregaard, P., Eriksen, H., Fanian, S., Healey, G., Hiratsuka, V., . . . Chatwood, S. (2015). A scoping review of Indigenous suicide prevention in circumpolar regions. 2015. doi:10.3402/ijch.v74.27509
Rumbolt, D. (2015). Youth Suicide Prevention in Aboriginal Communities: Identifying Best Practices for Schools. Education 6X90. Research and Development Seminar. Memorial University.
Sawatzky, A., Cunsolo, A., Harper, S., & Wood, M. (2016). “Exploring pathways for wellbeing among Inuit. Adjacent Government. Retrieved from http://www.adjacentgovernment.co.uk/education-schools-teaching-news/exploring-pathways-wellbeing-among-inuit/28364/
Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-888-737-4668.