[#WHD2017 Blog Series] Inspiring Innovations: Going Off, Growing Strong

This blog is part of our series celebrating World Health Day, this year themed “Depression: Let's Talk.” Hear what our community of innovators has to say about the ideas behind their Inspiring Innovations, and how they address depression across the globe.

In this instalment, the team behind the Innovation: ‘Going Off, Growing Strong’ presents their approach to preventing suicide and building resilience in Inuit youth.

Tell us about your country’s context and the circumstances that inspired your innovation.

In Nain, Nunatsiavut, Canada, a community inhabited by 1300 people, suicide affects everyone. Depression and trauma related disorders exist at higher rates than in the Canadian population, largely resulting from historical trauma including residential school, dog slaughter, and forced relocation of Inuit communities. Inuit experience social inequities across many determinants of health and wellbeing. Young Inuit men in Nain were dying by suicide at epidemic rates before Going Off, Growing Strong began – GOGS began in order to reach young men at-risk for suicide who were disconnected from any services in the community. These young men identified ‘going off’ on the land as a way to heal from distress, depression and other challenges. ‘Going off’ refers to travelling by land, sea ice, boat, ski-doo or foot onto the land to practice traditional hunting and gathering skills. On the land young men were paired with mentor-harvesters – this allowed them to build social connections, reduce stigma they were facing as ‘outsiders’ in the community and practice cultural traditions.

What aspect of your project are you most excited about? How is the project innovative or unique?

We use relationships and traditional skills to build confidence, resilience and self-efficacy in the participants of GOGS: our innovation is the way in which we collaborate across sectors to deliver culturally appropriate and effective programming. GOGS youth contribute some of what they have hunted or harvested on the land to a central, community freezer so that others in the community can have access to foods. As food security is also a major issue in this context, GOGS becomes a source of food security for elders, and others who do not have the means to ‘go off’, as well as a network of support for the youth, and other community members.

Have you noticed an impact ‘on the ground’? What is the best feedback you have received (from service users, team members, or otherwise)?

We now receive many referrals each year for GOGS. These referrals come from our community agency partners, but also from youth themselves. The GOGS program space has become a drop-in for youth in the community and the space has expanded to offer help to young people with skills such as job-seeking, applying to schools, and navigating income supports. Most importantly, the youth who were making frequent and severe attempts at suicide have not died by suicide. We have been able to see a reduction in suicidal behaviours in our youth participants, and create an environment where young people can talk about their feelings in order to get the help they need.

What’s next?

We aim to partner with Sea-ice Monitoring And Real-Time Information for Coastal Environments (SmartICE), the recipient of the 2016 Arctic Inspiration Prize to create opportunities for GOGS youth to be involved in paid positions, conducting scientific research about the surrounding environment, such as sea ice changes and other environmental indicators.

What is the one message about depression you want people to take away from your innovation?

Depression isn’t always a meaningful label. In Nain, where there are no physicians, or access to psychiatric care, often diagnoses are not helpful in providing a trajectory for treatment/healing. Suicide is a symptom of suffering – at GOGS, we have connected with young people who do not participate in health system services, through traditional Inuit activities that are meaningful, and healing for them. Through these connections we have been able to facilitate relationships between youth and mental health services in the community for those youth who require further, clinical care.

To read more about the Innovation, visit the case study page.

To see the other blogs in this series, visit our [#WHD2017 Blog Series].

North America
Children and adolescents
Empowerment and service user involvement
Prevention and promotion
Depression/anxiety/stress-related disorders
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