'Dark clouds in our community': Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation chief appeals for help amid suicide crisis
TORONTO -- After months of grieving the loss of several community members, an Indigenous community in central Labrador has been forced to declare a suicide crisis after 10 youth suicide attempts in less than a week -- an issue the chief worries may get worse without additional resources.
“There have been a lot of deaths… a lot of dark clouds in our community,” Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation told CTV News.
“We’re trying to comfort everybody as much as we can with our own resources and be there for people… we just need more outside help.”
In a statement posted to social media Tuesday night, Hart said the rash of suicide attempts followed the death of a young woman over the weekend.
Although Hart could not comment on the circumstances surrounding the young woman’s death, the RCMP confirmed the body of a 20-year-old woman was recovered from Lake Melville on Saturday after reports of a drowning.
But the small community of 1,300 has also been struggling with more than a dozen deaths over the last year, all from natural causes, putting a strain on the community’s resources.
“The community is over steaming with the deaths and the grieving… it’s hard to figure out what people are going through because it’s really heavy when you lose a loved one,” Hart said via phone from Sheshatshiu Wednesday.
“I’d like the people to help us assist because we can’t do it on our own. The counsellors that we have… I don’t want them to be burnt out, because we’ve been dealing with death all year.”
The community’s treatment facility, which Hart says has counselled over 100 families, also suffers from a shortage of funds.
In a statement issued to CTV News Wednesday, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs Seamus O’Regansaid he has spoken with Hart regarding the situation in Sheshatshiu and is working closely with community leaders to provide immediate assistance.
“We are deeply concerned by the situation in Sheshatshiu First Nation. The loss of life from suicide is a tragedy beyond measure,” read the statement.
“We are working closely with community leadership, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and all partners to ensure that immediate, enhanced mental health supports are available for as long as they are needed.”
That support includes 10 youth outreach workers, four security professionals, a mental health counsellor, a psychiatric nurse, and cultural supports provided by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
The ISC has also provided a list of mental health providers, available through ISC’s Non-Insured Health Benefits Program, which will be available to the community over the next three days.
The Hope for Wellness Help Line will also provide immediate telephone crisis intervention counselling support for all Indigenous Peoples, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The help line can be reached at 1-855-242-3310.
Premier Dwight Ball also spoke with Hart about providing additional resources, noting that two social workers from the Labrador-Grenfell health authority have been providing counselling in the community since Saturday.
‘I always have hope for my people’
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found disproportionately high suicide rates among Indigenous people in Labrador. The study found suicide rates were 14 times higher for Innu people in Labrador compared to non-Indigenous rates in Newfoundland.
Nationally, suicide rates among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit remain significantly higher than the rate among non-Indigenous people.
According to Statistics Canada, the suicide rate among First Nations people is three times higher than the rate among non-Indigenous people.
But Hart says he has hope for the people of Sheshatshiu First Nation.
“I always have hope for my people. The important part is that you are there for your people around the clock, whenever they need you,” he said, noting that elders shouldn’t be left out of conversations about suicide prevention.
“When you speak about suicide it varies from different ages. Yes, it’s important for the youth to be heard, but we need more funding to get the activities constantly continuing on in our daily lives.”
- With files from the Canadian Press