Technology & Science

Aboriginal communities urged to develop own solutions to youth suicide

Aboriginal communities need to do more themselves to combat high rates of suicide and depression among their youth, experts told a health-care conference in Montreal on the weekend.

Aboriginal communities need to do more themselves to combat high rates of suicide and depression among theiryouth, experts told a health-care conference in Montreal on the weekend.

Mary Simon, the president of the national organizationInuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said Canada's Aboriginal Peoples need to train their own counsellors.

Aboriginal communities also need to develop internal support systems to deal with mental health problems, Simon told the 2nd International Meeting on Indigenous Child Health.

"I'm really trying to promote something that is much more layered," Simon said. "Like what are the things that really need to be done, starting from the community."

The suicide rate among some Inuit youth should be considered an epidemic, she told the conference participants, which included about 270 doctors, health professionals, researchers and community health representatives from Canada, the United States and Australia.

The situation is most direin the Inuit population of Nunavik in Quebec's Arctic region, where there are11.3 suicides per 100,000 population — seven times the national rate.

Need 2-pronged solution

Dr. Kent Saylor, a pediatrician from Kahnawake, Que., and chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society's First Nations and Inuit Health Committee, said the problems need to be tackled on two fronts.

"There is increased funding needed in all the communities but that's not the only answer," said Saylor, who works with the northern and native child health program at Montreal Children's Hospital.

"We need a lot of community involvement to help themselves to solve their problems.It has to be done in partnership with both the provincial and federal governments."

He said that in his experience,not enough services are provided in remote aboriginal communities.

Part of the problems stems from the differences betweentraditional aboriginal healing practices and the Western approach to medicine, said Saylor, who supports collaboration.

The conference focused on solutionsfrom around the world to health-care issues affecting aboriginal communities, including injury and violence prevention, environmental and traditional health, nutrition, obesity, diabetes and substance abuse.

Dr. Anne Kuzava, a pediatrician from Santa Fe, N.M., said she was surprised to learn the inferiorstate of health care servicesin many of Canada's aboriginal communities.

"I had thought that having a national health plan would mean that there are no health inequities in Canada, or at least fewer than what we have in the United States, where 40 per cent of thepopulation has no health care," said Kuzava.

"However, I'm learning that inequities persist."

With files from the Canadian Press