For a while, suicide and depression has been an urgent issue among Aboriginal youth. Though suicide rates vary among the different groups, statistics show that suicide rates for First Nations and Inuit youth are much higher, ranging from 5 to 11 times higher than non – Aboriginal youth. Statistics show how this issue in many communities affects different demographics and how it compares with the demographics of the rest of Canada. There are many reasons, mainly the ones from many past experiences from colonization, that affects many Indigenous people to this day in harmful ways. However, the situations in these Aboriginal groups isn’t hopeless, as there are ways that suicides among these youth can be prevented. In modern day Canada, suicide among aboriginal youth varies throughout the different communities, although the overall suicide is high in comparison to the rates of non-Aboriginal youth due to the difference in experiences.
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Suicide is a serious issue amongst many Aboriginal communities, which is evident through the high suicide statistics. Certain groups, such as numerous Inuit communities struggle with these issues especially. However, it’s also important to note that there’s also communities that don’t have high suicide rates. In fact, there are groups with possibly a few or even no cases of suicide due to various reasons such as many protective factors. Aboriginal peoples are also more likely to seek for professional help. Unfortunately, emotional distress and suicide continue to be higher than average among Indigenous communities. Historically, suicide was a rare occurrence until Aboriginal peoples came into contact with Europeans and inevitably, colonialism. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries became prevalent since. And now it’s the leading cause of death among the youth of today. Suicide among male First Nations youth occurs in 126 people for every 100,000. While suicide in non-Aboriginal male youth occurs in every 24 per 100,000 people. Suicide among Inuit youth are known to have some of the highest rates in the world, reaching up to 11 times the national average. Since many Inuit communities live in remote areas, adequate mental health services are not always available. A 2004 survey also showed that Aboriginal peoples had low education level, low family income, low employment rates, high violence rates, high rates of alcohol and drug addictions. In the Nunavik Inuit Health Survey of 2004, it was observed that 6 of 10 participants stated that they used drugs in the past year. This number is 4 times higher than in Canada overall. Substance abuse continues to be a problem, especially on reserves. Due to poor housing, and inadequate health care services, the likelihood of substance abuse increases in these communities. In a national survey done among First Nations communities from 2008 to 2010, it was concluded that 82.6% of the respondents believed alcohol and drug abuse was the number one challenge faced on reserves. All of these factors that arose from historical experiences affects the Aboriginal youth of today and causes various problems due to burdens from the past.
Moreover, suicide amongst Aboriginal communities was a rare occurrence in history. However, the result of colonisation and government policies has led to many negative consequences that harm the communities to this day. The reasons behind elevated suicide among youth include biological, psychological, community factors and social stressors. Though there are individual factors that play a role in the poor mental health of many youth, the larger social and historical events, such as residential schools, also play a role. Younger generations also experience the effects from the historical trauma that the older generations faced from residential schools. Research shows that the children and grandchildren of residential school survivors tended to be more psychologically distressed and showed suicidal behaviors more often than the children and grandchildren of people who didn’t go to residential schools. These victims lost their sense of culture and language and with that, they also lost their identity. This caused many survivors to go into depression and many resorted to suicide as a solution. The lack of knowledge of parenting in the older generations as well as exposure to suicide in their communities only sends the youth down the same path. The direct survivors of horrific abuse in residential schools often transmit the trauma to the younger generations when their issues aren’t recognized. Therapists see many self-destructive behaviors such as family violence, suicidal and homicidal thoughts, depression and various addictions in clients who have experienced intergenerational trauma. There are also social factors that contribute to the mental health issues and substance abuse among Indigenous youth. An Aboriginal child living in urban areas in Canada is about twice as likely as non-Aboriginal child to live in a single-parent house and to be poor, as well as four times likely to be born to adolescent parents. RCAP (Royal Commissions to Aboriginal Peoples) reported that Aboriginal peoples living in urban areas faced difficulty utilizing provincial programs that were available to other Canadians, because the provincial government wouldn’t take responsibility to provide services for them. The difficulties faced in society as well as traumatic events that created a loss of identity for many, continues to prevent a healthy environment for Indigenous youth to grow in today. However, some communities have developed programs and strategies that could help youth and lower their risk of committing suicide.
Furthermore, in communities where there is cultural continuity, suicide rates among Aboriginal youth are much lower. These cultural protective factors include self-government, land control and a strong sense of culture. There is also lower suicide rates in communities where the native language is widely known. A study conducted on bands in British Columbia showed that the bands with high levels of Indigenous language knowledge experienced fewer suicides in comparison to the bands with lower levels of language knowledge. With a strong sense of culture, comes a strong sense of identity and belonging for the youth. Which is why suicide prevention programs that involve their culture can give manu Indigenous youth the feeling of “wholeness” and can help motivate them to overcome their adversities. These multi-level approaches to prevent suicide should acknowledge the values, knowledge, strength and resiliency of Indigenous people. Traditional healing being the main method along with western practices acting as secondary helpers have been effective in terms of helping those affected by intergenerational trauma and poor mental health in general. There are also many suicide prevention programs who use many conventional therapeutic methods but also integrate Indigenous practices and setting to fit the views of Indigenous peoples. The development of suicide prevention strategies is also important. In Alkali Lake, British Columbia, the community used cultural and spiritual methods to help people with the healing process. Dances, ceremonies and practices such as pow-wows and sweetgrass ceremonies were held by traditional healers to help those who struggled with substance abuse. Other examples of traditional kind of approach includes programs that are led by elders and knowledge keepers of the community that also incorporate cultural aspects of the community. Ensuring that the focus is on the needs and values of the individual, as well as the the Indigenous group as a whole can help the Aboriginal youth build healthy alternatives and coping mechanisms and it can overall prevent the prevalence of suicide.
In Canada, certain Aboriginal groups have high suicide rates due to many factors involving past experiences, individual factors as well as social factors. However, it is also important to acknowledge that there are also Indigenous communities that haven’t experienced major suicides among their youth, due to cultural continuity, and various suicide prevention programs. Involving cultural practices and leading programs in Indigenous languages can give many youth that experience acculturation stressors and intergenerational trauma, hope and motivation.
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