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Preventing Suicide Among Inuit

Inuit in Canada are faced with the challenge of elevated suicide rates. Shared, evidenced-based, Inuit-specific approaches to suicide prevention address this public health crisis.

Social Determinants of Inuit Health

The circumstances in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, are known as the social determinants of health. These factors have a large impact on our overall well-being and play a critical role in suicide prevention. Social determinants of health can vary from one culture and society to another. The social determinants of Inuit health include:

  • Quality of Early Childhood Development
  • Culture and Language
  • Livelihoods
  • Income Distribution
  • Housing
  • Personal Safety and Security
  • Education
  • Food Security
  • Availability of Health Services
  • Mental Wellness
  • Environment

Clear evidence links social disadvantage, such as living in poverty and not getting enough to eat, to higher rates of suicide. Addressing these underlying causes of social inequity, are necessary to prevent suicide and will also improve many other areas of Inuit life.

Social and Economic Inequity

Compared to most other Canadians, Inuit Nunangat experiences many social and economic inequities, such as poverty, less access to quality healthcare, and unemployment. Creating social equity is essential to the prevention of suicide for Inuit in Canada.
Inuit Nunangat
All Canadians

Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey. (Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada, May 2011)
Grace M. Egeland, Inuit Health Survey 2007-2008: Nunavut. (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC: Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, May 2010), 12.
3 Shirin Roshanafshar and Emma Hawkins, Health at a Glance: Food Insecurity in Canada. (Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada, March 25, 2015).
Heather Tait (Analyst/Researcher, Health Canada), e-mail message to author (June 23, 2016), 2010 Median Total Income for the Population Aged 15 and over, 2011 National Household Survey.
Canadian Institute for Health Information, Supply, Distribution and Migration of Physicians in Canada, 2014 (Ottawa, ON: Canadian Institute for Health Information, September 2015).
6 Statistics Canada, Table 102-0706: Life Expectancy, at Birth and at Age 65, by Sex, Five-Year Average, Canada and Inuit regions., accessed June 10, 2016. http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a26?lang=eng&id=1020706

Risk Factors

Effective suicide prevention should reduce suicide risk. Risk factors for suicide are experiences, events or conditions that leads to suicidal behaviour. This means that the lives of people who have died by suicide are more likely to share certain characteristics. However, there is no direct path to suicide for individuals, so people who have experienced one or more risk factors are not destined to die by suicide.
Historical Trauma

Significant social and cultural upheavals in our society, such as colonization, have contributed to the increase in Inuit suicide rates today.

Community Distress

Social inequities translate into stress and adversity for families and can lead to disparities in health status, and increased risk of suicide.

Wounded Family

Intergenerational traumatic experiences can contribute to risk for suicide, especially when they lead to depression and substance misuse.

Traumatic Stress and Early Adversity

Childhood adversity, such as extreme poverty, abuse, poor mental health, substance abuse, or neglect, is linked to suicidal behaviour.

Mental Distress

Mental distress whether it be depression, substance misuse, mental health disorders or self-harm, are important risk factors for suicide.

Acute Stress or Loss

Stressful life events or loss, coupes with access to lethal means, may play a strong role in suicidal behaviour.

How Risk Multiplies In Our Societies

Suicide risk can multiply throughout a person’s lifetime. Individually we may face certain types of adversity and also be exposed to suicides that creates a base level of suicide risk in our communities.

Some people begin life with adversity, such as
being affected by acute stress while in the womb.

This base level of risk can multiply through stress factors related to social inequity, such as poverty and poor education.

Personal experiences, including physical or sexual abuse, can further multiply a person’s overall risk for suicide.

Exposure to suicide is a risk factor for suicide. Knowing people who have died by suicide can add to a person’s overall risk for suicide.

Having high rates of suicide in our communities means that suicide touches every community member, creating an underlying risk for suicide that affects all inuit.

As a result, many Inuit face individual risk factors for suicide in addition to being at risk by living in a high suicide society.

Protective Factors

People who experience stressful life situations react differently depending on their coping skills and the support and help they receive from their family and community. Protective factors are experiences, behaviours, or an inherited characteristic. They can support positive outcomes for people who experience stressful events and challenging difficulties in their lives, acting as a buffer against suicide.
Social Equity

Creating equitable economic, education, health, and other resources, will relieve some major stressors and improve suicide risk.

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Cultural Continuity

Instilling a strong and grounded sense of Inuit culture, history, and language through networks of support can reduce the risk of suicide.

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Coping With Acute Stress

Providing individuals with access to social supports and resources that help them regulate and cope with distress helps protect against suicide.

Family Strength

Providing children with safe environments that nurture social and emotional development will protect against other adversities.

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Reducing Suicide Among Inuit

Suicide prevention among Inuit communities requires a shared national, regional and community-wide response. Evidence shows that taking a holistic approach that reduces suicide risk, while increasing protective factors is an effective way to prevent suicide.
Create Social Equity.

Suicide is an expression of wider social and health disparities. Addressing social inequity through the social determinants of health, including
early childhood development, income distribution, housing and others, will address the underlying causes of suicide.

Create Cultural Continuity.

The strength and vibrancy of our language and culture is a cornerstone of Inuit well-being, yet many Inuit do not have access to this source of strength, even when they are in crisis and need support. Being able to access our rich heritage, including culturally safe services and care is imperative for suicide prevention.

Nurture Healthy Inuit Children.

Children who grow up in safe, nurturing and predictable environments have a foundation for healthy lifelong growth and development and are more likely to live healthier, happier lives with a reduced risk for suicide. Investing in the safety and wellness of children is the most impactful way to prevent suicide.

Increase Access To Mental Wellness Services.

Many gaps exist in critical, culturally-relevant services that support mental wellness among Inuit. A continuum of mental wellness services is needed to ensure Inuit impacted by trauma and adversity are provided with the proper supports.

Educate and Health Unresolved Trauma And Grief.

Unresolved trauma and grief can create lasting distress and contribute to suicide risk. To reduce suicide, it is necessary to address unresolved trauma and grief, including the impacts of historical trauma stemming from colonization and rapid social change.

Mobilize Inuit Knowledge.

Inuit knowledge is a source of strength that can build resilience and contribute to suicide prevention. Inuit regions, communities and local organizations must lead the development and implementation of suicide prevention initiatives.

Risk Factors

Risk factors increase a person’s chance of illness or death. They can come from the environment, an experience, a behaviour, something inherited, or an unknown cause.
Learn More About Risk Factors

Protective Factors

Protective factors decrease a person’s chances of illness or death. Protective factors can come from the environment, an experience, a behaviour, an inherited characteristic, or an unknown cause.
Learn About Protective Factors

Research

Initiatives

This map aims to increase the information available on community-based initiatives that play an important role in reducing and preventing suicides in Canadian Inuit communities. By exploring the interactive map and resources, you will to learn more about these initiatives and the current public health crisis being faced by Canada’s Inuit population.

IRC Initiatives

The funds were used in a variety of ways to meet the objectives set: Student and Family Support Worker (SFSW)...

IRC Initiatives

The funds were used in three ways: Parenting to the Moon and Back; ASIST Trainer Development Program; and, Community Initiatives...

Nunavik Land-Based Healing Program (NUNAMI)

Between 2016 and 2019, the structure that the program would take was worked on, and two resource staff were subsequently...

Sexual Violence Prevention/ Outreach

The Sexual Violence and Outreach project has completed work in two major domains: the development and facilitation of workshops and...

Nain Youth Centre

The Youth Center has offered activities of:  Providing a safe, supportive drop-in space in the evenings for all youth (13-30)...

Building Capacity to Address and Prevent Childhood...

The project sought to improve service delivery practices to reduce problematic substance use among Nunatsiavut’s parents/guardians through a systemic review...

Nunavik sexual abuse intervention flying team proj...

A fly-in treatment team is proposed as a way of bringing experienced sexual abuse counselling services to the population of...

Expanding the evidence-based Inunnguiniq Childrear...

The Inunnguiniq Parenting/Childrearing Program is the only evidence-based program in Nunavut that is founded in Inuit values and philosophy related...

Our Life’s Journey

This project delivered Modules 1, 2, and 3 of Our Life’s Journey (OLJ): the Inuit Counsellors’ Training and Mentorship Program...

Reclaiming the Whole Man

Reclaiming the Whole Man is an Inuit-led initiative by the Pirurvik Centre to strengthen the resilience and wellbeing of Inuit...

Project Jewel

Project Jewel is an on-the-land wellness program that builds in after care supports for its participants. They strive to provide...

Resolution Health Support Program

If you want to learn more about the Resolution Health Support Program, please contact:

Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
Health and Wellness

107 Mackenzie Road
Bag Service #21
Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0

Tel: (867) 777-7088
Fax: (867) 777-4023

For emergency counselling and crisis intervention, please contact the Residential School Crisis Line at 1 (866) 925-4419.

Link: https://www.irc.inuvialuit.com/program/resolution-health-support-program

The Resolution Health Support Program (RHSP) provides mental health and emotional support services to former residential school students and their families. The program continues to be implemented by the Community Development Division in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR). Cultural Support Workers (CSW’s) are located in each community – Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik and Inuvik – to give frontline support or refer you to the RHSP.

Nunavik Hotlines

Tel: 1 (877) 686-2845

Link: http://nrbhss.ca/sites/default/files/Mental_Health_Week_EN.pdf

If you live in Nunavik, you can contact your Community CLSC: 819-XXX-9090 in Inuktitut, English and French. Traditional Health Support workers are available from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you can speak to someone in Inuktitut or English by calling 1 (877) 686-2845.

Mental Health First Aid Inuit

Danielle Baikie
Inunnik kamagiamut SuliaKattik
Inosiksiagiktotitsigasuannimi amma
Nunalinnik Pivalliatiksigasuannimi

Social Work Liaison
Health & Social Development
P.O. Box 250
Nain, NL, A0P 1L0
Email: [email protected]
tel: (709)922-2126 ext 239
fax: (709)922-2426

Link: https://www.mhfa.ca/en/course-type/inuit

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Inuit is a course designed by Inuit, for Inuit and for those who work with Inuit. The three-day course encourages people across Inuit Nunangat to have conversations about mental wellness with family, friends, and colleagues. Addressing the stigma associated with mental health and wellness can be challenging, MHFA Inuit provides a foundation from which participants have an opportunity to learn from their own people in a culturally safe, and competent environment. 

MHFA Inuit is delivered by two facilitators to ensure cultural competency. Namely:

  • Inuit Nunangat is made up of unique communities with majority Inuit populations
  • Community supports are different in each region
  • Inuit realities, culture and language can vary depending on community and region

Hope for Wellness Line

Tel: 1-855-242-3310

Link: https://www.hopeforwellness.ca/

The Hope for Wellness Help Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples across Canada. Phone and chat counselling is available in English and French. On request, phone counselling is also available in Inuktitut.

Kid’s Help Phone

Tel: 1-800-668-6868

Link: https://kidshelpphone.ca/

Kids Help Phone is Canada’s only 24/7, national support service. They offer professional counselling, information and referrals and volunteer-led, text-based support to young people in both English and French.

Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line

Tel: 1-800-265-3333

Link: http://www.nunavuthelpline.ca/

Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line provides anonymous and confidential telephone counselling for northerners in crisis. Available 24/7.

Submit your Initiative to National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Step 1 of 5 - Overview

  • Initiative Overview