Peer Leader Mental Health Program

The Issue

In 2015, during the Umingmak Child and Youth Support Centre feasibility study, the UCYSC team performed community consultations in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay, as well as received input from over 75 online surveys from Nunavummiut, and have met directly with Elders, youth, teachers, guidance counselors and local key first responders that act when a disclosure of abuse occurs from child and youth victims of crime. In these consultations, it was indicated that youth:

  • Lack confidence in the social services and justice system, and thus do not report disclosures or personal incidences
  • Believe there are few meaningful mental health supports or referrals for services in their community to help heal from trauma
  • Fear retaliation on themselves or their family if they report to authorities
  •  Believe telling the authorities would cause further harm to family if abuse or neglect is reported

The Peer Leader Mental Health project directly responds to this urgent community call to action, in particular for teenagers who are bearing the burden of this lack of support, who are being approached by their peers, to hear disclosures of harm and are expected to provide advice and emotional support. Teenaged youth who are considered “healthy” but are known among their peers to have also experienced harm are being approached by other youth as a conduit of disclosures. In many cases, youth trust other youth as a safe way to share their stories (usually historic cases of disclosure, but at times also immediate incidences) and request advice on “what to do next” and where they may be able to access emotional support or mental health services.

The Program

This youth leadership program delivers key training, covering:

  • the historical and cultural roots of trauma in Nunavut;
  • principles of victim services and child-friendly emotional support;
  • types of harm experienced;
  • the legal obligations and duty to report;
  • the multidisciplinary team of responders in communities including their respective roles and responsibilities;
  • an overview of the justice system if cases proceed for prosecution;
  • effective listening and communication skills and the scope of intended emotional support that they can reasonably provide to other youth;
  • vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout and self care;
  • victim services partners and tools in Nunavut;
  • effective positive activities for community-based implementation that support youth across the continuum of care after experiencing trauma as a victim of crime

A key framework for the course is the traditional Inuit societal values of resiliency, coping and survival, as identified through the UCYSC project and former consultations with Elders on traditional justice, healing, addictions, mental health and wellness and IQ principles. The program is generally delivered over 3 days, welcoming any youth who wish to take the training, and believe they will benefit from it. One of the main components of this camp is connecting the participants with resources in their community, such as those services and individuals that can support them when needed.

The program has been delivered in Iqaluit in partnership with Roos-Remillard consulting, Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake, in partnership with Embrace Life, with more to come. Among the feedback ACYF has gotten from the participants is:

“This program helped me understand what I was feeling and how I can help myself and others”

“It helped me realize that I actually want to go in a different direction for my studies”

“When you said you have to “Name your pain” before you can help others or bury it in drugs and alcohol, that really hit me. I have been going through some stuff at home and was drinking every night. You helped me to see I was going down a hurting path, but I don’t want to hurt myself. I want to be healthy for me and others!”