The rate of suicide among Inuit is alarming. Community members and leaders have referred to the situation as a national tragedy, since the rates of suicide are 11 times the Canadian average. Inuit youth, in particular, are at high risk of suicide.
Some common risk factors for suicide among Aboriginal populations are:
- breakdown of cultural values and belief systems;
- suicide clusters (where a number of suicides occur in a relatively short period of time);
- sexual orientation challenges;
- community instability or lack of prosperity;
- limited opportunities for employment;
- lack of proper housing and inadequate sanitation and water quality;
- isolated geographic location; and,
- loss of control over land and living conditions.
In a study with youth in the Qikiqtani region in Nunavut, it was noted that problems in romantic relationships was “the single most common precipitating factor associated with suicide. Anger and jealousy were common themes in stories about such relationships”.
Elders’ Advice: Helping Yourself and Others
Inuit elders have noted that historically youth suicide rarely occurred.
They expressed concern about the loss of life experienced by younger Inuit through suicide. The elders suggested ways to help Inuit prevent losing hope:
- parents must listen to and pay loving attention to children, showing they are cared for; Elders and other community members must also show caring to children and youth;
- parents must teach children from an early age that life will always have some problems, but that situations change: children’s young minds can’t think ahead, and they must be taught to think and understand about changes and the future;
- be tolerant of others: try to understand them;
- approach those who seem worried or sad, offer to listen;
- always keep information confidential: if you are trying to help someone, let them know you will not talk about what they tell you;
- share your own experiences of difficulties, so people will know they are not alone and that problems can be overcome;
- help the person develop a more positive way of thinking; and,
- talk calmly, respectfully and kindly.
More the Inuit elders’ perspectives on coping skills and suicide prevention are available in our report Suicide Prevention: Inuit Traditional Practices that Encouraged Resilience and Coping.
Each year on September 10, Inuit organizations and local Inuit in Ottawa come together to mark World Suicide Prevention Day. This is an awareness-raising event, organized by Inuit Tuttarvingat, National Inuit Youth Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, and Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada.
With throat singing and drum dancing performances, the local Inuit community showcases Inuit culture and celebrates life. In addition to the lunchtime event on Parliament Hill, the partners prepare a news release and backgrounder to inform other Inuit and the Canadian public about the issues.
Read our news release
Check out photos from the event
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