Nearly two years have passed since a public health emergency was declared in Nunavut in response to the emerging Covid-19 pandemic.

During this time, the focus on healthcare – and the territory’s ability to provide appropriate service levels – has only tightened. It must feel a bit like a noose on the Department of Health.

Amid national nursing shortages, we saw community health centres critically under-staffed, sometimes suspending routine appointments and moving services to emergency-only. The territory’s ability to test and track Covid infections has been stretched and slowed with the loss of laboratory technicians in Iqaluit, who felt unappreciated while dealing with the highest level of infectious samples yet in two years of testing.

Midwives leaving Rankin Inlet in summer 2020 suspended birthing services in the community, and those women also made comments to the media about feeling unappreciated and overworked.

Mental health workers are equally hard to come by, even more so ones who stay for any length of time, which leaves Nunavummiut with few options other than to start the counselling process fresh with the next person to arrive, thereby reopening wounds.

What can the territory do to make providing services here more appealing?

A youth working-group in Iqaluit made a presentation Feb. 1 of their recommendations for improving Nunavut’s Interagency Information Sharing Protocol (IISP), which allows departments to share information more easily when it’s determined someone seeking help is suicidal.

The youth recommend bringing in more Inuktitut speakers, given it is often the first language of many Nunavummiut in smaller communities outside of Iqaluit.

“Many children and youth do express their emotions in Inuktitut way better than they do in English,” said Jasmine Evic, one of the students involved in the group. “I think that would help youth explain what’s going on in their life.”

We need home-grown professionals, there’s no getting around it. The downside is there’s not a lot of incentive for those trained Nunavummiut to stay here, with limited housing and myriad struggles threatening their stability.

The Iqaluit group recommended classifying Inuusivut suicide intervention staff as essential workers permanently due to the ongoing suicide crisis in the territory – and to provide them staff housing and a signing bonus similar to those allotted for nurses. They also would like to see community wellness staff included in the protocol and training, which could add an extra layer of support for both staff and the youth who need help dealing with these sensitive situations.

Taking care of our mental health, especially in our vulnerable youth, will have one of the most lasting impacts on all facets of healthcare.

More than anything, a holistic approach is needed – the problem must be tackled from many angles at once to see any real headway. The time has long passed that we can sit in the passenger seat and watch to see which attempts and short-term Band-Aids make the most impact.

The Department of Health stated mental health services have been increased over the past two years, not just because of Covid-19, but as part of ongoing efforts to have more options to support Nunavummiut.

Small steps can be taken at the community level, and many are happening already. Talk with each other, find the supports available where you are. Remote counselling or calling the help lines could be a first step in finding your balance again.

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