News : Nunavut’s Distress Helpline to Operate 24 Hours a Day
Dec 12, 2014 -- The Kamatsiaqtut helpline will begin operating 24 hours a day on Dec. 15.
Since 1990, the Iqaluit-based crisis-prevention Kamatsiaqtut helpline has helped callers from Nunavut and Nunavik get through some of their darkest moments.
And as the organization prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Kamatsiaqtut is making a big move.
The helpline, which currently operates from 7:00 p.m. to midnight every evening, will begin running 24 hours a day beginning Dec. 15.
"It was so important that we do this, to give access to Nunavummiut, and the people of Nunavik," said the president of Kamatsiaqtut’s board of directors, Sheila Levy. "It’s something they’ve asked for and we’re finally able to deliver."
The helpline will do that with the support from the Government of Nunavut, who pledged its support to the one-year pilot project as part of the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy.
But the new round-the-clock helpline owes its thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Ottawa Distress Centre, who will be responding to calls outside of the helpline’s current hours, from midnight to 7:00 p.m. each day.
Levy, who sits as the northern representative on a national committee of distress centres, said the Ottawa Distress Centre model came the closest to that of Kamatsiaqtut, which she describes as a "helping" model.
"At Kamatsiaqtut, we believe in helping people to help themselves, not doing it for them," she said. "We encourage them to talk about their problems, and ask what they expect to get out of the call."
To help prepare the Ottawa Distress Centre helpline staff to field calls from the North, the centre has received cultural training.
The centre has also received information on support services available across the territory, so if someone calls from Arctic Bay, for example, the caller can be referred to local services.
"We’ve done a lot of work preparing our volunteers and making sure they’re up to date on how to forward calls," Levy said. "And we’ve had to make sure they understand the culture and the issues."
At Kamatsiaqtut, a bank of about 20 volunteers work to answer calls in English, Inuktitut or French every evening from 7:00 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week.
Since the help line’s inception, it’s counted more than 400 volunteers who have helped callers deal with depression, anger, loneliness and suicidal thoughts.
"Some nights, we get no calls; others nights there are four or five," Levy said. "We’ve had up to 13 calls in one night."
But the helpline expects to serve many more as it becomes available through the day.
"Here we are, 25 years in, expanding. It’s a really good story," Levy said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, December 15, 2014