Students and staff members at Tuugaalik High School took part in an initiative aimed at preventing suicide during the school’s Embrace Life celebration in Naujaat on Sept. 28.
Tuugaalik vice-principal Julia MacPherson said the day of Embrace Life activities is always eagerly anticipated by students at the Naujaat school as it helps them deal with the often overwhelming emotions that come with the battle against suicide.
The day included a morning assembly in the school gym for all students in Grades 7 to 12 and an afternoon of fun-filled activities.
“Many students were crying and hugging each other at times during the assembly,” said MacPherson. “The students really enjoyed the day, despite the tough topics that were discussed.”
The day of celebrating life is backed and promoted in Nunavut by the Embrace Life Council (ELC).
The ELC is a registered non-profit suicide prevention organization based in Iqaluit that was formally established in 2004 to address the extremely high suicide rates in Nunavut.
Nunavut had 25 deaths by suicide in 2017. It was the fewest in 10 years but the rate was still many times higher than the national average, according to a report released by Nunavut’s Chief Coroner in January.
The ELC provides and promotes suicide prevention related teaching and information resources to Nunavut communities and organizations designed to help youth, parents and others across the territory.
As part the objectives outlined in their 2016-2019 strategic plan – the ELC is helping to create safer communities through initiatives that promote Inuit language and culture.
It also offers programming that targets youth in general – including youth at risk of suicide – as well as continuing to offer resources which explain the risk factors for suicidal behaviour.
The ELC also seeks to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourage people to seek help when they are in mental distress.
MacPherson said they enjoyed a sunny afternoon on Embrace Life Day. After the assembly, and with temperature hitting 7C, students and staff enjoyed a bonfire, barbecued hamburgers, listened to music and played sports.
In addition, the students watched short videos produced when the brother-and-sister team of Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers paid a visit to Tuugaalik High School this past spring as part of the We Matter program.
We Matter is a national media program where Indigenous role models and allies from across the country share their own experiences of overcoming hardships.
“We were lucky enough to watch some words of encouragement delivered by our very own students,” said MacPherson. “Each student was given the opportunity to record a video with words of encouragement and hope, and their videos were edited and sent to the school at the beginning of this year.
“We waited until Embrace Life Day to view them, and the students were quite excited and proud to see themselves on the ‘big screen’ in the gym.”
Teachers also contributed to Embrace Life Day activities, said MacPherson.
Every teacher took the time to write a positive note of encouragement and caring to each of their students. The notes were then given to the students at the end of the general assembly, she said.