Inuit among groups at higher risk of suicidal thoughts, says Statistics Canada

Nearly a quarter of Inuit have had suicidal thoughts at one point in their lives, according to a recent Statistics Canada study — a sobering reminder of the reality faced by many Nunavummiut.

Residential school experience, alcoholism, poor health cited as important factors in study

'If you don't give up and you reach out you could live,' said Johnny Issaluk, an athlete who has won many medals in traditional Inuit games - and grappled with suicidal thoughts. 'You living can make a difference for other people.' (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Nearly a quarter of Inuit have had suicidal thoughts at one point in their lives, according to a recent Statistics Canada study — a sobering reminder of the reality faced by many Inuit living in Nunavut.

The 2012 study looked at First Nations living off-reserve, Métis and Inuit between the ages of 26 and 59. The research hopes to add data to help combat high suicide rates among Aboriginal peoples in Canada which are much higher than among the non-Aboriginal population.

In Nunavut, suicide is a territorial crisis that has affected almost every family.

"The biggest impact in my life was my mother's suicide," said Johnny Issaluk, an Arctic sports athlete who wrote a book explaining the teaching of traditional Inuit games to elementary school students.

Issaluk's mother died by suicide in 1999, he said, leading him to grapple with suicidal thoughts of his own.

"It was like your feet got cut off," he said. "Some people say it's a cowardice thing. It's not. 

'It's one of those things that you're hurting so bad, you're scared so much, you think there's nothing that can fix how you feel."

The Statistics Canada study said members of all three Aboriginal groups were more likely than non-Aboriginals to report suicidal thoughts. Almost 24 per cent of Inuit women reported thoughts of suicide. And more than 25 per cent of First Nations women who live off reserve had these thoughts.That's compared to just over 13 per cent of Non-Aboriginal women in Canada. The numbers were slightly lower across the board, but comparable among men.

Risk factors to suicidal thoughts

Mohan Kumar, a researcher in Statistics Canada's Social and Aboriginal Department, says that there are three main risk factors that precede suicidal thoughts: mood and anxiety disorder, drug use, and reporting low self worth.

The report also pointed to heavy drinking, poor health, and residential school experience as other pertinent factors, as well as being widowed, divorced, or separated.

"There's also a lot of research showing that suicide attempts and suicide completions are almost always preceded by suicidal thoughts," said Kumar.

"If we can understand what are the factors that are associated with suicidal thought that will add to the existing literature which can be used for developing programs to reduce suicides," added Kumar.​

If you are grappling with suicide in Nunavut, call the anonymous and confidential Kamatsiaqtut Help Line at (867) 979-3333 or (800) 265-3333.

You can also call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800 668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.