There will be devastating consequences if Gjoa Haven doesn’t get additional support for mental health and addictions, Mayor Joanni Sallerina has twice cautioned the GN.

Suicides and low attendance rates at school are among the repercussions of mental health and addictions issues in Gjoa Haven, according to Mayor Joanni Sallerina, who wants a dedicated facility or more mental health staff assigned to the community.
photo courtesy of Joanni Sallerina

Sallerina says suicide and low school attendance rates are among the fallout from the crisis.

“If nothing is done, these types of addictions will significantly contribute to a vicious circle of poverty for future generations as they will not be given the right environment to develop properly into good contributing citizens,” Sallerina wrote in a letter to the legislative assembly that was tabled in November.

The letter was a follow-up to similar correspondence he sent in February, calling for the establishment of a Kitikmeot regional mental health and addictions facility in Gjoa Haven.

Victoria Madsen, the GN’s director of mental health, said last week that the Department of Health “cannot commit to a facility in Gjoa Haven at this time.”

However, she said the department is working on providing more services regionally with plans to hire additional workers before the end of the year. A second mental health nurse was stationed in Gjoa Haven in May and there are plans to add a second mental health and addictions outreach worker in the community, bringing that division’s staff complement up to four in Gjoa Haven, Madsen stated.

The GN is also working on plans for an in-territory treatment facility, Madsen noted. In the meantime, Cambridge Bay has a mental health facility available to all Kitikmeot residents, she said.

“This facility provides psycho-social support to individuals with serious mental illness. As well, the department also partners with the Cambridge Bay Wellness Centre to provide Inuktut counselling and crisis support to the Kitikmeot communities,” Madsen said, adding that these services are available by contacting the wellness centre directly or through the Quality of Life Secretariat.

Sallerina said he only knows of one permanent mental health worker based in Gjoa Haven and another counsellor who flies in for a week or two every second month. Yet, he said, addictions to alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, gambling and junk food are taking an increasing toll.

“There’s more frequent incidents that are happening in our community and (those suffering from severe mental illness and addictions) have to be sent out, but they’re always sent right back without really any treatment,” the mayor said. “We have a lot of people who are in need of help. We have youth that need support.”

Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak has repeatedly raised the issue in the legislative assembly. In May, he said the community was troubled by “serious crisis and trauma, much of it due to mental health and addictions issues.”

Akoak pointed out that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 final report urged the federal government to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.

In his most recent letter to the legislative assembly, Sallerina also made it clear that Ottawa should play a role in funding a mental health and addictions treatment centre due to its legalization and regulation of marijuana.

“We believe that the federal government, being one of the primary financial beneficiaries of the legalization on cannabis, will be earning billions of dollars in the years to come from cannabis sales. Such sales will also be leaving us with the onerous task and increased cost of dealing with the increase in (mental health and addictions) problems,” Sallerina stated. “Since their actions have directly contributed to an increase in these health problems, they should be willing to contribute towards solving these problems.”

Sallerina said he planned to raise the issue of mental health and addictions and the need for related federal and territorial funding at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities meeting in Cambridge Bay last week.

In addition to Gjoa Haven’s mayor and MLA calling for greater resources, the youth and women’s resolutions passed at the Kitikmeot Inuit Association’s AGM in Cambridge Bay in October appealed for more mental health support in all communities.

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