Canadian Study Probes Reduced Suicidal Thoughts in Indigenous People

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The higher rates of suicide among indigenous people in Canada has been well documented, but few studies have looked at the factors linked to recovery among those who have had suicidal thoughts.

A new Canadian study from the University of Toronto and Algoma University finds that three-quarters of formerly suicidal Indigenous adults who are living off-reserve have been free from suicidal thoughts in the past year. Overall, participants who were older, spoke an Aboriginal language, were food secure, female, had at least a high school diploma and had social support were less likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts.

The findings are published in the journal Archives of Suicide Research.

“It was encouraging to discover so many formerly suicidal Aboriginal peoples were no longer seriously considering suicide, but with one-quarter of respondents still having these thoughts, there remains a dire need for improvements,” said co-author Dr. Rose Cameron who is an Anishinaabekwe elder and a tenured professor at the University of Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

“Individuals who spoke an Indigenous language were less likely to have been suicidal in the past year. Knowing one’s ancestral language provides valuable understandings of Aboriginal beliefs, values and traditions, and these factors may improve self-esteem and a positive identity, thereby promoting overall wellbeing and recovery.”

Social support also played a key role in remission, said co-author Alexandra Sellors, M.S.W., a recent graduate of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) at the University of Toronto.

“Individuals with at least one person to turn to for support in times of need were much more likely to be free of suicidal thoughts for the past year than those who were socially isolated (77% vs. 61%),” said Sellors. “Social connections can promote a sense of meaning and value in life. Clearly, we need targeted efforts to decrease social isolation and loneliness.”

Unfortunately, one-quarter of formerly suicidal indigenous adults reported that they had been hungry at some point in the last year but could not afford to buy food.

“It isn’t surprising that those who were so destitute were twice as likely to still be suicidal compared to those who had money for food,” said lead author Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging. “As a nation, we have an urgent responsibility to eradicate this devastating impoverishment.”

The findings also show that indiginous people with at least a high school degree were more likely to be in recovery compared to those who had not finished high school.

“Education opens doors to better careers, higher income, better access to mental-health care and more opportunities in life,” said co-author Senyo Agbeyaka, a graduate of the University of Toronto.

“Currently, many isolated reserves do not have local high schools, which forces children as young as 14 to leave their family, home and community and move to larger towns and cities in order to study. These inequities need to be addressed if we hope to improve the high school graduation rate of Indigenous youth in Canada.”

Finally, the results show that each decade of age was linked to a 17 percent greater chance of recovery from suicidal ideation.

“Indigenous elders often play a pivotal and revered role in Aboriginal communities and this respect may act to buffer against depression and suicidal ideation,” said co-author Dr. Philip Baiden, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Source: University of Toronto

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