In Oct 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Iqaluit, Nunavut for the Arctic Youth Ambassador Summit (AYAS). Throughout this summit, I had the chance to interact with indigenous youth and learn about the mental health issues they face. Many indigenous youth with mental health issues unfortunately commit suicide. Some of the leading causes of suicide include depression, alcohol & drug abuse, hopelessness, sexual & domestic abuse, and homelessness. The suicide rate of First Nations males between the ages of 15-24 is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous male youth. For First Nations females the rate is 35 per 100,000 compared to 5 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous females. Suicide rates of Inuit youth are 11 times the national average. Although the government has developed various programs to overcome the impacts of residential schools, there is still a lot that needs to be done to improve the mental health of indigenous youth. When it comes to mental health, the resources are limited and wait lists are long, making it harder for the youth to get access to proper mental health care.
Through my interaction with the indigenous youth in Iqaluit, I learnt about the stigma against the mental health issues they face and the lack of trust in the programs provided by the government. The fact that the social and mental health workers are not indigenous themselves or cannot speak indigenous languages increases this mistrust. The stigma and mistrust thus leads to youth not looking for help. One way to combat this issue is to create youth ambassadors who are from Iqaluit so that they can help other youth to come forward and get the mental health care they need through them. It may be easier to open up to someone who is young, comes from the same culture, and understands the impact that trauma has on someone. It is also better to approach this situation through someone who is from the same culture and speaks the same language, as a lot of the aboriginal communities do not fully trust the services provided by the government. These steps may help increase mental health awareness and decrease the suicide rate among indigenous youth.
By: Maleeha Khan
Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’sÂ and Dementia.