Aboriginals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered face homophobia and rejection that may increase their risk of suicide, a national health group says.

The National Aboriginal Health Organization released its report on suicide prevention and "two-spirited" people on Tuesday.

First Nations who identify as two-spirit people are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered and prefer the term because they say it reflects  the fluid nature of sexual and gender identity and its connection with spiritual and traditional world views.

"Two-spirited people were accepted in First Nations communities prior to European contact," NAHO acting CEO Simon Brascoupé said in a release.

"Since then there has been a sense that being two-spirited is wrong, resulting in them feeling marginalized and increasingly alienated, sometimes resulting in suicide. This guide is a reminder of the values that First Nations culture is based upon, such as inclusiveness and diversity."

Suicide rates among First Nations are not known, the group said.

It noted that of 81 children and youth who died by suicide in British Columbia between 2003 and 2007, 17 were aboriginal.

Fighting discrimination

Violence, oppression and loss of culture are considered risk factors for suicide — themes that affected individuals highlighted in the report.

"I had the worst time coming out of the closet in my reserve," a 25-year-old gay male was quoted in the report. "They gay-bashed and everything. My family dropped me …my cousins, my friends. Basically I was driven off the reserve."

This guide was created to make what's known about suicide prevention and two-spiritedness more accessible, the group said.

The document includes suggestions on how individuals, service providers can help, such as:

  • Speak out against homophobia and related forms of discrimination.
  • Talk about suicide and gender/sexual orientation to family members, friends, leaders, elders and service provides. If you talk openly, respectfully and compassionately you will help to overcome stigma, fear and shame.
  • Create safe and inclusive environments.
  • Focus on resilience and positive coping skills.
  • Find culturally relevant ways to "come out."

The report was released as the Mental Health Commission of Canada officially launched a national strategy on mental health in Ottawa.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said her government has made significant investments in mental health and suicide prevention for children and youth since it took power in 2006, which she said were "worth every dime."

At the launch of the national mental health strategy, psychiatrist Dr. David Goldbloom, senior medical advisor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said it's important to recognize how First Nations, Inuit and Métis culture contribute to a more holistic understanding of mental health.

NAHO had its funding from the federal government cut in last month’s budget.