One-in-five Canadian reported feeling high levels of mental distress one year into the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and research company Delvinia.
The pandemic is almost into its third year and some Nunavummiut leaders are trying to be creative in offering a sense of relief for residents.
In Gjoa Haven, like many other communities, activities have been held online, such as bingos and snow sculpture contests. The local snowmobile club, square dance group and volleyball teams have contributed prizes.
Households have been provided food hampers and various supplies, much of it funded by the territorial government.
“(We’re) trying to keep the community entertained,” said Mayor Megan Porter. “Residents enjoy games and appreciate all efforts, but could always use more.”
Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak made multiple pleas in the legislative assembly for a mental health facility in his community long before the pandemic existed.
“We have advocated for additional mental health supports for a number of years, including the construction of a local facility,” Porter acknowledged.
It hasn’t happened, and there are no such plans.
“The Hamlet has encouraged use of the local supports and hotlines,” Porter added.
One of the primary sources for mental health support by phone is the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line. There were 1,144 calls officially logged to the hotline in 2021, according to the Department of Health. It’s likely that a few hundred more calls likely occurred but data is unreliable due to poor internet.
Nevertheless, the number of calls last year is similar to 2019 and 2020, representing a “minimal” change, the department stated. The trends detected from 2021 include increases in calls from those over age 45, people who are employed and Nunavummiut who had never dialed the line before.
Healing by Talking, a counselling service delivered remotely to Inuit across Nunavut, has seen 228 applicants since the program launched in January 2021, and 107 of them are still actively involved, the Department of Health stated.
Some Nunavummiut call other helplines or stop by their local health centre or even the RCMP when they’re in the grips of a mental health crisis. However, there is currently no system in place to comprehensively track requests for mental health support, the Department of Health conceded.
The department provided the following statement: “Mental health is a conversation that is growing continuously. The more mental health is discussed, and destigmatized, the more people will feel comfortable reaching out for support. During Covid-19, the importance of taking care of yourself during trying times of lockdowns and isolation has been an important topic. In Nunavut, throughout the last two years, we have increased mental health services. This is not necessarily because of Covid-19 but have more options of support for Nunavummiut. We hope that services will become even more accessible, and more people will be able to get the support that best suits their needs.”
The Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre, based in Iqaluit, has undertaken a study on Covid-19’s impacts on the mental health of Nunavummiut, but the results have not yet been released.
In a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s journal article titled Pandemic-Induced Mental Health Distress, Dr. David Gratzer, a Ontario-based psychiatrist, said he reminds his patients of the harms of turning to alcohol or other addictive substances in an attempt to cope with their anxiety.
“…it’s important to choose ways of coping that are healthful and will not ultimately undermine us, such as healthy diet and regular exercise. If appropriate, I do make a point to bring up substance-use because patients often feel reluctant to speak about it,” Gratzer stated in the article.
Options for help
– Going to the local health centre or RCMP
– Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line – 867-979-3333 or toll free at 1-800-265-3333
– Crisis Services Canada – 1-833-456-4566 or www.crisisservicescanada.ca
– Youthspace.ca – 1-833-456-4566 (call); 778-783-0177 (text); or www.youthspace.ca
– Isaksimagit Inuusirmi Kataujjiqatigiit Embrace Life Council – 1-866-804-2782; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.inuusiq.com
– Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868; kidshelpphone.ca for live chat; or text 686868
– Healing by Talking: Offers virtual counselling services to Inuit across the territory for up to 22 sessions annually. Counselling can be accessed via phone or video conference.
– GN/city employees family assistance program: 1-800-663-1142
– Federal employees family assistance program: 1-800-268-7708
– In Iqaluit: drop-in counselling is located at Greenstone, building 961; contact 867-979-5900 to schedule an appointment
– St. Joseph’s virtual counselling services, also located at Greenstone, building 961. Contact central intake at 867-975-5999 or email MHIntake@gov.nu.ca for more information