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Iqaluit's addiction and trauma facility is not a 'fix-all solution,' says mental health advocate

An addiction and trauma facility in the territory will benefit Nunavummiut, but it is not the “fix-all solution,” said Alanna Copland, a mental health advocate. According to the 33-year-old Inuk, every community needs a mental health worker and “sufficient” staff to ensure adequate and "efficient" services are available for Nunavummiut.

Alanna Copland writes mental disorders and the word “stigma” on her face during the mental health protest in Iqaluit. “Mental illness is an invisible illness, and so I thought putting words to my face would make them stand out,” says Copland. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

“Programming to facilitate those services within a community needs to be readily available for those who do not require treatment in a facility away from home,” said Copland.

“Not every Nunavummiut will be going to the facility."

Additionally, mental health needs to be addressed in the school curriculum. A mandatory course about mental health should be required for graduation, explained the law student.

“Mental health needs to be taught in all schools, to normalize and end the stigma surrounding mental illnesses,” said Copland. “Nunavut Arctic College must also provide mental health programs to train and hire Nunavummiut to become mental health workers.”

According to Copland, such action will greatly reduce high turnover rates of employees hired from the south, as well as make progress toward eliminating cultural and language barriers.

On June 26, Copland, who is originally from Arviat, organized a Nunavut-wide mental health protest.

In Iqaluit, nearly 150 protesters expressed concerns at the urgent need for mental health education and services in the territory.

Premier Joe Savikataaq, on the right, walks along with mental health protesters in downtown Iqaluit on June 26. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

At the protest, Premier Joe Savikataaq assured the crowd that mental health issues in Nunavut are not being ignored. The plan is to build an addiction treatment centre in Iqaluit with money from the federal government.

“I’m sorry we have not got the money from the federal government, said Savikataaq. “I wish it could be built tomorrow.”

A few days after the protest, on June 29, Health Minister George Hickes told Nunavut News, “I fully acknowledge that we need to continue to expand the mental health capacity in the territory. But please don't take those successes away from the people that are working in the healthcare field that are doing everything that they can with what we're able to provide for them as resources.”

He added, “I think people put a lot of reliance on this addiction and trauma facility, which is a much-needed facility. But that is not the (be all, end all).”

Hickes said individuals can call the hotline for mental health as well as meet with a community mental health worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.

“There are mental health workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, that are working in the community. They're doing an unbelievable job under challenging circumstances.”