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Alicia Elson
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Ottawa announces funding with aim to prevent suicides

Members from the Hopedale Youth Support Group in the community of Hopedale have been involved in encouraging youth to live healthy and well through

Minister of Health Leona Agglukaq and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Penashue, recently met with residents in Labrador to announce a $300,000 in federal funding towards supporting school and community based research initiatives in northern communities that focuses on the prevention of suicide in high-risk groups such as Aboriginal youth.

During last week's visit to the communities of Happy Valley, Hopedale, Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, Minister Agglukak and Minster Peter Penashue both had the opportunity to hear first hand accounts from residents and community leaders about the experiences and the challenges faced when losing a loved one from suicide.

"There are very few people in Aboriginal communities and in this case, Labrador, that haven't been touched by suicide,"  Minister Penashue told the Labradorian.

"Unfortunately it is a huge social problem in our communities and we recognize that in the Aboriginal communities and from a Government point of view we recognize that."

The funding announced last week is coming from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Evidence on Tap program.

Through a competitive, peer-reviewed process, CIHR will support teams of researchers that will review and analyze research evidence from across the globe on suicide prevention.

"The statistics in Labrador and in particularly aboriginal remote communities is much higher than anywhere else," noted Minister Agglukaq.  "We are opening up the application process to individual researchers that are interested in doing research which is community based, culturally relevant or opportunities to look at designing programs that may be school based or community based approaches to prevention, and to start research initiatives that are relevant to the challenges faced on the ground."

Pensahue added, "Everybody is going to be expecting solid recommendations to be coming forth from this review."

He said the issue of suicide is of concern to the Government of Canada.

"We talked about in the House of Commons and we certainly talked about it in the north and in the aboriginal communities and we are going to make an effort to find a strategy that is culturally relevant and community focused."

Michelle Kinney, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development with Nunatsiavut Government, said that government is pleased with the announcement of the funding.

"I am happy about the focus of the research; that we're not looking at the causes and those kinds of things, but rather on prevention and looking at what works," she said, adding, "I would say in our communities that there is no one that has not been impacted by suicide.

"Our communities are fairly small so everyone has either been affected either by a family member, a friend or someone in the community that they know - so it impacts the whole community.

Different communities have had to deal with suicides more than others but even the way our communities are interconnected on the coast all communities all communities are certainly impacted."

Kinney said young people in the communities have said they want action on the issue of suicide.

"They want it to be things that they can actually do and participate in the community. They don't just want reports and those kinds of things," Kinney said.

"I think for some people, when they heard the word ‘research', they were thinking it's going to be something else that is going to sit on the shelf. I don't that's the intent of Minister Agglukaq or Minsiter Penashue, I think they are looking for practical solutions that are going to help the communities. And I think that that is what youth are telling us as well so the two line up."


Current programs

Kinney said a number of Mental Health and Wellness initiatives have been ongoing within Nunatsiavut and have been project based activities geared toward the promoting Celebrating Life initiatives.

"We try to do as many activity based kinds of things that are going to engage youth and get them involved in different things versus actually focusing in on suicide prevention."

Specific programming over the past years have included a youth support program in Hopedale that focuses on land based programming with youth, bringing art into the community as healing, hands-on training in film production involving youth.

"The federal government has provided funding to us over the last six years through the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, so they provide funds for training in the community, and for youth programming, and so on."

She said over the past year the province has provided permanent Mental Health positions on the coast to provide counseling and intervention services. Last year they also provided funding for training for support programs for those kinds of things as well.

Currently there are two mental health councillors each in the community of Nain and Hopedale and one mental health councilor in Makkovik.  

Kinney said that Nunatsiavut's Department of Health and Social Development has also been looking at other ideas that would further engage youth in the communities, including the use of technology and the social media.

"I think that we need to partner with academic researchers and community members to look at what works to make sure that we are looking at models that are going to be appropriate for our communities and that it's not just academics coming in from outside but that the research is community driven at that we are looking at actual prevention practical kind of things that are going to work in our communities."

When asked whether the funding for suicide prevention is enough, Kinney said she thinks it will be the start to new research evidence that will assist with a national strategy for communities affected by suicide.

In the long term Kinney also said she would like to "safe spaces" for youth to go when they feel they need support.

She also hopes to see all groups working together to reduce gaps and duplications in suicide prevention strategies.

"I think that we need to look at longer term blocks funding, instead of project based, would be helpful. And I think that we need to be able to look at ways of working together with Nunatsiavut Government, the federal and provincial government to be able to have one focus, one plan and everybody contribute that one plan.

"I think that if all three levels of government could be working together we could make sure that we had a plan that covers all of the continuum."

Organizations: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, Labradorian House of Commons Department of Health and Social Development

Geographic location: Labrador, Aboriginal, Hopedale Ottawa Happy Valley Canada Nain Makkovik

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