Canada’s Inuit and Metis people living in the far north have some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Compare Labrador, (239 suicides per 100,000) and Nunavik (181 per 100,000) with the highest average annual suicide rates per population to the national rate of 13 per 100,000 in 2002. For young men aged 15-24 in Qikiqtani (Baffin) it was 280 per 100,000. Mental health services are inadequate and mostly white in origination (if well-intentioned) during a time of cultural crisis for people who were forced to settle into government-run towns forty years ago. They abandoned the traditional nomadic lifestyle consisting of roving family units rather than overcrowded towns of strangers, and started accepting welfare to buy imported lettuce instead of seasonal hunting. The Arctic has the highest cost of living in Canada as well as high unemployment.
One project consulted Ajunnginiq Elders on their views of youth suicide. They recommended things to do when people are feeling overwhelmed, sad, or have a problem that seems hopeless:
- talk to someone you trust about problems: keeping problems inside will just make them seem worse;
- change your thoughts: remind yourself that although life is sometimes difficult, things will change, days are never the same; tell yourself that you can make changes; tell yourself that you can feel better;
- get outside into nature, be active: this will help take your mind off problems and make you feel better; focus on helping others: you will feel good about yourself and take your mind off your problems;
- don’t isolate yourself: go out, be with others, be active;
- pray; you can always talk to God;
- stay busy: learn new things, do things;
- learn how to handle arguments and problems with other people;
- believe in yourself: don’t put yourself down, learn ways to develop strength and competence;
- remember that you are not alone: others care about you, others have had similar problems and made it through; and,
- learn traditional skills: you will feel proud to be an Inuk.
Suicide Prevention Day, Sept 10, had people across the north and at Parliament Hill gathering for cultural awareness and information sharing. The Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut crisis line hotline is 1-800-465-3333. (Read more about American research on hotlines in a story by John.) Here are some aboriginal suicide prevention training opportunities, and there’s a Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention conference soon in the Northwest Territories. As for today’s events, read more in a report from CBC North.