I have had the great privilege of working as a suicide prevention counselor among the Inuit of Quebec. Their 14 villages are strung along a thousand kilometers of some of the most desolate-looking land on planet Earth, in Quebec’s far north. In conjunction with McGill University, I helped train community workers operating in these villages. At the end of the training process, trainees received a certificate in social work. They were taught how to formulate and execute a prevention plan. Moreover, a group of social service organizations, and a school board, gave us the means and the mandate to train “southerners” to serve in these far-flung communities.
I worked on these northern projects over the course of five years. Again, the best training in this field is to expose yourself to a variety of people and situations. So these efforts helped round out the education I’d received in crowded, urban Montreal.
Suicide is chiefly a by-product of isolation. In the far north, the challenge is this: how do you set up a support network in a place where people live so far apart?
Inuits live collectively. In a land where people go off to the snowy tundra with their dogs for weeks at a time, the answer is the same as in the cities: you set up as wide a social support network as you possibly can. In a way, this is easier in the far north. Inuits share everything within their communities. Personal property, divisions between families, hardly exist at all within Inuit culture.
In Montreal, population 3 million, alienation is rife. It is easy to be alone in a crowd. You have to convince urban youth that they deserve a support network. How do you sell this perspective to a young teen with no job? To a teen who thinks that school is made for others? What do you say to the friendless, lonely teen who thinks nobody cares if they live or die?