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Suicide can be defined as intentional termination of one’s life.  Suicide results from  interaction of many personal, historical, and other related factors such as health. This paper discusses teen’s suicide among the aboriginals in Canada. Aboriginal people are about three percent of the total Canadian  population. It is the fastest growing population in the country. In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of deaths among the teenagers. This figure is  relevant not only for Canada, but also for the whole world. In fact, suicide is rated among the top three causes of death among teens globally. Approximately 500 youth die by suicide in Canada. The effects go beyond the subject of death and affect the entire community and society (Rathus, 2012).

The average age of aboriginal people is 25, ten years younger than the average age of the general population. Suicide cases are much higher in this youthful generation as most of them suffer mental illness due to several factors including historical trauma (Rathus, 2012). The paper gives a review and integrates available research literature in the cases of teen’s aboriginal suicide. It discusses the statistics, causes and prevention of suicide among the teens, ways of suicide commission and the existing risks factors.

Teens Aboriginal Suicide Statistics in Canada. Canada experiences high levels of suicide among the youth.  For example, in the year 2009, 3,890 people were recorded as having deliberately taken their lives. This death rate was translated as 18 per 100,000 for males and 5.3 per 100,000 females (Simon, 2012). Suicide rates in Canada were on the rise during the 1960s and 1970s peaking in 1980s then finally began falling slightly among women in 1990s. In the 21st century the rates have since then began decreasing (Simon, 2012). A study done by the Criminal Research Council on the aboriginal youth suicide in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand reveals that youth suicide is now double the rate of non-Aboriginal suicide. In 1997 for example, the male youth rate was five times higher than the national suicide rate (Covell & Howe, 2007).

In the recent years, the aboriginal people in Canada have experienced much higher rates of suicide than the general population. The general Canadian suicide rate has declined while among the aboriginal population, it continues to rise. For aboriginal people, suicide is an affliction of the young between the ages of 10 and 29. Their youth are 5 to 6 times more likely to die than any other youth in the overall population. Suicide amounts to a third of all the youth’s death in the aboriginal people in Canada (Rathus, 2012).

Ways of Teen Aboriginal Suicide in Canada. Young Aboriginal teens are reported to be among the highest number of people taking their lives in Canada. Hanging, poison, and guns are the most common ways that teens use to commit suicide. During the 1980s and 1990s, guns and hanging took the first two positions as the leading means of committing suicide among the male Canadians (Simon, 2012). These were followed closely by poisoning, jumping from a high cliff and gases. However, recent suicides are seen to be committed by being defiant to the doctor’s prescription, suffocation and strangulation. Also an evident suicide method is jumping on the highway of trains. The Toronto Transit Commission has reported several of such incidents of suicide during the past two years (Rathus, 2012).

Causes of Teens Suicide among the Aboriginals in Canada. Suicide was rare among the aboriginal youth in the pre-colonial period as it was viewed as unacceptable practice. Those who committed suicide were mostly the sick or the elderly who could no longer contribute to the community and their death was seen as a sacrifice to the community. In this community today, suicide is more common among the youth and is believed to arise from feelings of hopelessness and depression (Coon, 2009).

There are several reasons for the rising rates of suicidal tendencies among the Canadian aboriginal youth. Most reasons are associated with the Canadian government historical policies towards the natives. Generally, the factors include alcoholism and/or drug abuse, physical and/ or sexual abuse, extended periods of grief, family disruptions and instability and family history of mental problems (Coon, 2009).These factors among others are discussed in categories as socio-economic, psycho-biological, situational and cultural stress factors.

Socio-Economic Factors of Aboriginal Suicide. Poverty is one of the contributing factors to acts of suicide among the aboriginals. High levels of poverty are evident among the youth. Poverty is intertwined with other factors and issues such as oppression, lack of opportunities, poor nutrition, poor living conditions which are crowded and lack of proper housing and access to clean water (Dyck, 2012). All these factors can influence a teen towards suicide in the aboriginal people in Canada.

Other socio-economic factors such as low levels of education, limited employment opportunities and poor sanitation significantly affect the aboriginal youth. In such conditions, they develop feelings of helplessness and hopelessness then resort to suicide as the quick solution to escape from the reality of facing the problems for a longer period of time (Ungar, 2011).

Psycho-Biological Factors. Several mental disorders and illnesses associated with suicide have been associated with the high rate of suicide among the aboriginal youths in Canada. Cases like high levels of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia have been identified among the teens in the aboriginal community. The number of  teens suffering from mental illnesses is rapidly increasing. The aboriginals have been sidelined in most undertakings leading to clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and self-destructive behaviors like suicide (Austin et al, 2010).

The aboriginal people in Canada have been treated unfairly for many centuries. Their children were forced to go to residential schools in which they were discriminated. Their culture, language and dignity were taken away. Some were abused sexually and physically. The schools subjected them to trauma that affected them until today. The trauma has been passed through their generations in which some were mentally affected and thus opted for suicide as a quick escape from their problems (Kirmayer & Valaskakis, 2009).

On the other hand, overall physical health among the aboriginal youth in Canada has been going down. Cases related to obesity, diabetes and problems that are linked to poor diet and lack of exercise render the aboriginal population most vulnerable to suicide. Drug and other related abuses result in babies born with health problems and disability. Such children are at higher risk of committing suicide than average Canadian children (Austin et al, 2010).

Cultural Stress. This refers to the loss of confidence in the ways of understanding life and living as expressed by a particular culture. This happens when general relationships that bind and unite people together are subjected to change. These include knowledge, languages, social institutions, beliefs, values and ethical rules and regulations (Ungar, 2011). For an aboriginal teenager, the loss of these important binding factors and weakening of social and political systems make them more susceptible to suicides.

 Canadian government policies such as destruction of culture, values and religion of the native people also contributed further to more suicides among the youth. The Christian churches helped them replace the version of Christianity with that of the European system. The main contributors were the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada. Thus, many native children were growing up without the original aboriginal culture (Ungar, 2011). The government did finance them to establish residential school system which led to isolation from family members and further stripped them of their religion and language. This often led to depression, difficulty in parenting future generation and loss of values and culture. As a result, they resorted to suicide (Ungar, 2011).

Situational Factors. Situational factors are considered to be more important in analyzing the cases of suicide among the youth in aboriginal population in Canada. Circumstances such as coerced boarding school attendance, adoption, and long term illness of family members render the aboriginal teens vulnerable to suicide (Dyck, 2012). Increasing use of alcohol and drugs among aboriginal teens to relieve unhappiness has been identified as a cause to suicide. A study of the victims of suicide among the aboriginals shows that 90 percent of them had alcohol in their blood. Brain damage due to chronic use of solvents has been reported as another factor in the high rates of teen suicide (Dyck, 2012).

Prevention and Protection of Teen Aboriginal Suicide in Canada. Suicide is a problem that affects not only the youth but also the whole society. Its effects are more explicit in the small families of aboriginal people (White & Jodoin, 2004). For  Canadian society, the root cause of the suicide goes much deeper than an individual’s control, and thus, proper preventive mechanisms must be laid down. Suicide prevention  involves finding ways to reduce the risk factors and promoting protective and preventive measures against it.

Several organizations have risen to find ways of preventing suicide among the aboriginal youth. Health Canada is working together with aboriginal organizations to address issues of suicide based on the available evidences. The key strategy they use is to support the community- based solutions to teen’s suicide (Silver & Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2006). This approach is rooted on the evidence regarding what is likely to be effective in preventing youth aboriginal suicide.

Health Canada launched a website in April 2008 to help combat aboriginal youth suicide. The website contains resources for the youth and young employees, a blog and personal stories of aboriginal youths about suicides. Those who attempted suicides and were rescued write their stories or share experience about  suicidal cases with their closest allies. Books and videos are also posted on the website to help the youth be informed with proper information to prevent suicide cases (Silver& Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2006).

A report by UNICEF Canada on Aboriginal children’s Health in the year 2009, emphasizes the need of taking into account the interconnected relationships between cultures, community and environment in prevention of suicide cases among the youth. The report expands on the need of equality and consideration of all aboriginal youths as Canadians. They should, thus, be offered services without discrimination (Covell & Howe, 2007).

Community initiatives have been on the frontline in the prevention of suicides. Community based initiatives are evident in the aboriginal regions to combat and deal with suicide cases among the youth. Some aim at directly dealing with suicide while others aim at dealing with factors that cause this social ill (Silver& Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2006). They offer group and individual therapy for the vulnerable population and mental health support for those with one or more mental health conditions.

For example, the works of Wikwemikong was started in the mid 1970s. They established a non-medical alcohol and drug treatment and prevention center for the aboriginal population in Canada. They also offered counseling services to the vulnerable aboriginal teens in Canada. The counseling services later translated to Mental Health Clinic. These facilities together with collective responsibility and community development have since helped reduce suicide cases among aboriginal population in Canada (Simon, 2012).

In 1992, seven suicides and 75 attempted suicides occurred that triggered a recommendation that drugs and alcohol to be restricted. Furthermore, creating working places, providing mental health services, and finally, movement towards self reliance were reinforced and considered as mechanism of dealing with rising rates of suicide among the aboriginal teens in Canada. They also organized events aimed at bringing together believers of different religious confessions (Simon, 2012).

Apart from the community initiatives, there are also several protective measures to combat the increasing suicide cases among the aboriginal teens in Canada. The government has laid effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance use disorders targeting teens and the community as a whole. Mental health centers have been established and organizations put in place to deal with issues of suicide. This is coupled with easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support to help the victims (Kirmayer & Valaskakis, 2009).

Highly lethal means of suicide has had strong restrictions in the aboriginal regions. This ensures that those who attempt suicide can be rescued if found (White & Jodoin, 2004). The connection between families and community support has enabled the aboriginal teens to connect to their social and religious beliefs and trust their culture. This has reduced the rates of suicide. Those that are identified with mental problems are supported through ongoing medical and mental care relationships that they may not attempt suicide (Kirmayer & Valaskakis, 2009).

The teens are further equipped with skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent disputes handling such that when they are faced with challenges of life they do not run to escape from them by committing suicide. The campaign is further enhanced by accepting and teaching the teens on religious and cultural beliefs which discourage suicide as well as support self-preservation. This change their mind from the trauma they were subjected to in the historical past where their culture was undermined (Kirmayer & Valaskakis, 2009).

Risk Factors for Teen aboriginal Suicide in Canada. There are several risks factors that can lead to one being susceptible to committing suicide. Teenagers with mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, anxiety and personality disorders are likely to commit suicide. History of past trauma, physical illness and previous suicide attempts also place teens at risk (Simon, 2012). Environmental risk factors like loss of job, social or relationship loss, and easy access to lethal means of suicide among other factors expose the aboriginal Canadian youth to suicide.

There are other socio-cultural factors that render the youth vulnerable to suicide. Such factors include social exclusion, lack of social support and discriminative and stereotypical cultures and beliefs. The youths who show strong need associated with seeking help are at great risk of committing suicide (Simon, 2012). Moreover, teenagers in a society, who embrace certain cultural beliefs and attitudes that consider suicide as a solution to certain dilemmas are at high risk of falling into the suicide trap.


Teen aboriginal suicide in Canada is of much concern and needs to be addressed with urgency. The nation is losing the productive youths among the aboriginals. Historical injustices that were done against the aboriginal population should be addressed. The community based approaches are best suited in solving the suicide cases among the aboriginal teenagers in Canada.

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