More could be done for those who are struggling with addiction in Nunavut, says Laurel McCorriston the executive director of the Uquutaq Society, which helps run a number of men’s shelters in Iqaluit.
The Uquutaq Society opened up a new transitional housing program for its clients at buildings 1077 and 1079 on Oct. 22.
“I’d say (addiction) is a factor in maybe a third of our clients,” said McCorriston. “We run four programs and this is an issue for every program but it’s most obvious at the low-barrier shelter, where people who have been struggling with addiction for a very long time.”
Those who want to go to detoxification programs in the south, often find barriers to success due to their homelessness.
“What we find is a real lack of mental health services around addiction here and it seems to be a sort of Catch-22,” McCorriston says.
“You can’t be sent out for detox according to the mental health rules unless you have housing. It’s really hard to keep your housing while you’re trying to manage an addiction, it’s hard to get housing when you’re trying to manage an addiction.”
It’s a cycle that she says is affecting some men trying to improve themselves at the shelters managed by the society, recalling one example of someone who didn’t have housing and wanted to go to detox.
“He wanted very much to go to detox and was highly motivated to go and he couldn’t go because he didn’t have housing. They just wouldn’t send him,” said McCorriston.
The transient nature of mental health professionals working in the North also adds yet another barrier for those seeking help.
“When I worked for public housing, people were starting to build a relationship with a counsellor and then the counsellor leaves. If you’re in a therapeutic relationship it takes a long time to build up that trust and to have significant progress,” she said. “That’s an issue the way our mental health and counselling services currently operate.”
A better path to helping out people who are struggling with addiction is to meet people where they are at, to meet Inuit problems with an Inuit perspective she says.
“These services need to be created by Inuit for Inuit and delivered in Inuktitut, this is what we hear, a lot of it is people want to speak in their own language and they want to speak to people who understand their culture,” McCorriston said.
“I think what we have to look at maybe at the (Arctic) College is creating programs locally for local people, to get training and a profession of mental health counselling from local people who can service the community,” McCorriston said.
“I know they have a social worker program but a specific mental health and addiction program would be very useful.”
On Nov. 18, due to the rising number of cases of Covid-19, the territory went into lockdown. This has had an impact on programs the Uquutaq Society hoped to run.
The society received funding and was going to set up a number of different counselling and on-the-land programs, but with the lockdown the society is not sure how to proceed. Other programs which just got approved for funding have also been thrown up in the air.
“We have some plans for some programs through funding just approved through QIA (Qikiqtani Inuit Association) and we’re not sure we can do it now.”
The on-the-land programs in particular she says helps men struggling with addiction, so much so she recommends that for detox.
“I’d actually have people request to have a detox and those kinds of programs on the land, it’s central to the mental health of the men,” she says.
She reiterated that when it came to helping out those who are struggling with addiction, these are people that yearn for a connection that don’t have in their lives.
“There’s an idea that addiction is a spiritual disease that people talk about, and it’s about connection, it’s about a lack of connection.”