Education minister pressed on youth mental health in Nunavut

MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster says previous programs haven’t had enough of an impact

Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster asked Education Minister Pamela Gross this week what her department is doing to improve programming geared towards youth mental health in Nunavut. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Lochead

With a new mandate for Nunavut legislators that focuses on health and healing in place, MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster wants to know what the new government will do differently to tackle mental health challenges among the territory’s youth.

“We know that the programs that have been implemented for a number of years in Nunavut are not having the desired impact,” Brewster, the MLA for Iqaluit–Sinaa, said in the legislative assembly on Tuesday.

Her statement came before she asked the Education Minister Pamela Gross what new trauma-informed practices the government will be implementing.

Brewster also mentioned that one of the priorities of the mandate is health and healing.

Gross replied the Department of Education is looking to incorporate suicide prevention programming into schools but did not name any measures other than new programming.

Instead, Gross talked about the Inuusivut Anninaqtuq Action Plan, carried out in partnership with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the RCMP and the Embrace Life Council. Inuusivut Anninaqtuq runs from 2017 through this year.

Mental health has been a growing concern among the territory’s young people. More than 100 Iqaluit youth and their supporters marched into the busiest intersection in the city in November, calling for better mental health supports in the territory. The march happened as the sixth legislative assembly was selecting its new premier. On that day, the soon-to-be-elected Premier P.J. Akeeagok said he heard the youth’s calls.

The suicide rate among Inuit was nine times higher than among non-Indigenous Canadians between 2011 to 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

As well, the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry published a study in 2016 that found Inuit have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, especially among youth.