Considering that suicide among aboriginals was almost non-existent in the 1980’s, it is shocking to learn that the suicide rate for Aboriginals now is almost 5 times that of the National Average. Suicide and self-injury is the leading cause of death for Aboriginals up to the age of 44 and is especially common among the Aboriginal youth. Why are suicide rates so high? Is it a result of the psychological impact that residential schools had all those years ago? Or is it something else entirely?
There are many theories as to why suicide is so prominent within the aboriginal community. Some theories talk about acculturative stress. Acculturative stress is defined as a reduction in health status. This stress would be derived from circumstances such as residential school experiences, forced adoption or foster care, forced relocation as a community, and denied recognition as a race (as the Metis experienced). This stress can be passed on to other generations through intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma is when trauma is passed on from first generation trauma survivors to second generation offspring and so on. Experiencing such things could put individuals at risk of suicide.
Another theory includes an observed domino effect. Aboriginal community members have noted that some suicides have occurred as if to imitate a previous suicide. It has been noted that youth tend to romanticize the idea of suicide. Other sources comment on how suicides seem to be normalizing. More theories include it being a result of racism, poor health, and unbearable childhood traumas.
When asked about the reasons behind the high suicide rates, Ermineskin First Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin said that it’s “a very, very tough question to answer because you can say one thing and then the next day the ones you think are doing right could be the ones that are affected by it. There`s too much noise out there for our young people nowadays and we`re not monitoring it and we don`t know what`s going on behind their bedroom doors.”
This April, the UN and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PEII) met and addressed many issues including the suicide rate concerns. Following the meeting, it has been recommended that the World Health Organization “address self-harm and suicide among indigenous children and young people” (iisd).
Luckily, measures are already being taken to prevent these aboriginal suicides. Health Canada have created a National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (NAYSPS). NAYSPS aims to work to involve Aboriginals in more community-based activities related to preventing suicide. They also plan to increase the number of local suicide prevention professionals as well as youth connections online. There is also the Centre for Suicide Prevention that has adopted similar strategies. The website “Creative Spirits” suggest that efforts be made to heal the trauma that suicide leave on communities. They also talk about working to strengthen Aboriginal culture and language within the people as well as teach Aboriginal culture in schools and recognize Aboriginal laws.
While plans are being made to fix this issue, this is not an issue that is well known. We, as a community, need to help by raising awareness of this suicide crisis as well as work to support the Aboriginal communities. By raising awareness, we can hope that news of this problem will reach the ears of people that can make an impact on the issue. These Aboriginal suicide rates are much higher than those of non-aboriginals, especially in youth, and it is something that needs to be addressed for the sake of the suffering communities.