Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide Attempt Among Indigenous Māori Youth in New Zealand

// // Posted in Vol 7 Issue 1

by Terryann C. Clark, Elizabeth Robinson, Sue Crengle, Theresa Fleming, Shanthi Ameratunga, Simon J. Denny, Linda H. Bearinger, Renee E. Sieving, and Elizabeth Saewyc

Overview

Indigenous youth around the world are at greater risk for suicide and suicide attempts compared to their peers. Among First Nations youth in Canada, suicide rates are five to six times higher than among non-Aboriginal youth. In New Zealand, suicide rates are about twice as high in Maori vs. non-Māori youth. There is limited information about indigenous- and youth-specific risk factors. This study explores the risk and protective factors associated with suicide attempts among Māori youth, as well as the potential for family connection to reduce suicide attempts.

Risk Factors for Suicide

The researchers randomly surveyed Māori students throughout New Zealand about their health and well-being. The results indicated that the strongest risk factor for suicide was symptoms of depression, with females being twice as likely as males to report significant depressive symptoms. Other significant risk factors were having a close friend or family member commit suicide, being in a younger age group, having anxiety, witnessing an adult hit another adult or child at home, and being uncomfortable in New Zealand European social surroundings.

Protective Factor for Suicide

When protective factors are present, an individual can “bounce back” when faced with adversity; this is called the resilience effect and is magnified in high risk situations. Family connection was found to be a protective factor, but did not act through the resilience effect. Rather, family connection acted as a compensatory mechanism to reduce the risk of suicide attempts across all levels of risk, not just at higher levels of risk.

Implications

Prevention efforts to prevent suicide should include programs for the whole population, not just those at immediate risk of suicide. These programs should prioritize positive mental health and support indigenous philosophies of family well-being and connection.

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