The Challenge of Our Time

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The elevated rate of suicide by Inuit in Canada is the most urgent challenge facing our people. Inuit in each of the four regions of Inuit Nunangat have called for action to address this issue for decades, yet suicide endures as a leading cause of death among our population, particularly among young people. Inuit are collectively taking action to reduce the risk of suicide in our society by developing and implementing supports for our people. To be effective on this journey, we must transform the way we talk about, understand, and work together to prevent, suicide in Inuit Nunangat.

Although we have a more limited understanding of what can trigger a suicide attempt in the moments before it occurs, public health evidence informs our understanding of the overarching life experiences that create greater risk for suicide. Our broad approach to suicide prevention demands that we focus on the entire lifespan and how to prevent people from having experiences that we know can increase their risk for suicide, and advocating for Inuit-specific services and supports for those who need help.

Those of us who live in Inuit communities are exposed to society-wide risk factors for suicide as well as individual risk factors. Society-wide risk factors include being exposed to suicide, historical and intergenerational trauma and lack of access to essential services. Individual risk factors for suicide include physical or sexual abuse during childhood, poverty, undiagnosed mental health disorders and substance abuse.

Each person has a unique reaction to risk factors for suicide that vary depending on their biology, past exposure to suicide risk factors, the duration of that exposure, as well as their own ability to cope and overcome challenges in the face of adversity.

Protective factors can help shield individuals from the negative effects of risk factors. Protective factors include access to Inuit-specific mental health services and supports, close connections to family and community, and economic stability.

Preventing suicide by Inuit is entirely possible, but our success
depends on our willingness to confront the social inequities that have placed enormous stress on Inuit since we began living in settlements, and which create a foundation of risk for suicide.
At the societal level, ITK will fight for social equity in the form of
increased investments in a continuum of mental wellness services for Inuit, early childhood education, access to housing and family violence shelters, poverty reduction, research, and support for language and cultural promotion and revitalization.

At the individual and family levels, we will work to ensure that people at risk for suicide have access to Inuit-specific services, guide and support initiatives that teach resilience in the face of adversity, support trainings that teach people how to intervene when someone they know is suicidal, and advocate for a greater network of services for those who need help.

On July 27, ITK will release a National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy in Hebron, Nunatsiavut. The Strategy builds on many of the ideas I have shared. It guides policymakers to make more focused, efficient and impactful investments in suicide prevention. The release of the Strategy will be a time to reflect upon all we have been through as a people, as well as an opportunity to come together in commitment to transforming what we know about suicide into actions that prevent it.

© Letia Obed
© Letia Obed

Natan Obed
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami