A CBC article highlights the release of a new study revealing shocking rates of suicide in Nunavut, which, for the past four decades, has been ten times higher than the national average. On a global scale, suicide ranks among the top 20 causes of death, and a death caused by suicide occurs every 40 seconds. On average, indigenous populations worldwide are disproportionally affected as suicide rates among certain indigenous peoples are higher than non-Aboriginal groups. Among Canada’s provinces and territories, Nunavut has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people at 85%, most of who identify as Inuit.
Highlights from the Nunavut study reveal that those who committed suicide were:
- Less likely to be in school or employed; those who died of suicide were approximately 4 times more likely to have less than 7 years of education
- Less likely to be married or in a common-law relationship
- More likely to suffer from psychological, physical, and/or sexual abuse as a child
- More likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues
Research has shown that mental health issues including depression, anxiety and personality disorders, and drug and alcohol use are significant risk factors for suicide. The study demonstrates how the intertwining complexity of the social determinants of health, such as education, employment, early life, and ethno-cultural identity, can come together to influence an individual’s mental well-being and have an effect on suicide rates. The WHO states that “suicide is complex with psychological, social, biological, cultural, and environment factors involved.”
The legacies of colonialism, cultural destruction, effects of residential schools, and ongoing systemic racism and stereotyping means that many Aboriginal people are marginalized within our society. With these disadvantages in place, it is unsurprising that Aboriginal people who are unemployed – due to a myriad of reasons that can include inequitable regional economic development and discriminatory hiring practices – suffered from childhood abuse, and lacked the support from a partner, have an increased likelihood of mental illness, putting them at greater risk of committing suicide.
Further, many Aboriginal people face barriers in accessing high quality, culturally appropriate health care, which can be particularly damaging when they suffer from one or numerous mental illnesses.
The high suicide rates in Nunavut are a stark indicator of an unequal society. This requires action on many fronts including policies and programs to address the social determinants of health and barriers to health care and enhancing public awareness of the systemic inequities many Aboriginal people face.