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High rates of suicide in Aboriginal youth

Sarah Abbot has begun researching this phenomenon

Author: derek cameron – news writer

Suicide in Aboriginal communities is an epidemic. / Haley Klassen
Suicide in Aboriginal communities is an epidemic. / Haley Klassen

“Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age.”

That is according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention. Why is suicide such a prevalent issue in Aboriginal youth? Film professor Sarah Abbott hopes to find out with her research.

Sarah Abbott was inspired to start her research in early 2014 when she was listening to the radio. That day, CBC broadcast the speech of the mayor of a northern town with a high First Nations population. A group of youth had committed suicide, and that got her thinking, what is different about First Nations life to cause this high rate of suicide?

Her research is still in early stages, but, as most of our current problems are, the answers to why lie in history. A book used for her research, Aboriginal suicide is different: a portrait of life and self-destruction, points out, “Canada still treats First Nations as the conquered. Ever since Europeans first colonized Canada, First Nations have been treated as less. First Nations people have trouble getting mainstream jobs. They have trouble being accepted by our society.” This lack of acceptance leads to a host of problems.

One aspect of her research focuses on the lack of First Nations media in our society.

“The young people are exposed to media from the south that has nothing to do with northern First Nations way of life,” says Abbott.

She believes that media plays an integral role in how we view each other.

“People start to look at each other in the ways media portrays. And right now it portrays very materialistic, capitalist values.”

According to Abbott, Aboriginal youth are judging and being judged on ideals that do not reflect their personal beliefs. This judgment has a negative impact on the self-esteem of First Nations youth.

She also noted that although there have been 1,337 studies done on Aboriginal suicide in Canada, Australia and the United States, only nine involved an intervention aspect. Only nine tried to look for remedies to the problem. Only nine tried to involve the First Nation communities to look for solutions.

The hope for this research is to try and increase awareness and to join the nine other studies in the search for solutions.

Unlike other studies, professor Abbott is also documenting her work in the community on film. Although there are papers, she hopes to present the research in a way that will engage others. Over the summer she became involved in discovering First Nations learning styles. The hope is that this knowledge will help her better understand and present her research.

“The [suicide] rate among Inuit is still higher—6 to 11 times higher than the general population,” said Abbot.  It is this disparity that is truly unsettling.

Suicide is a serious mental health issue for the young First Nations of Canada. Professor Abbott hopes to attract attention to the issue, to start a conversation, and to start the process of dealing with the causes of suicide in First Nations youth.

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