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Researchers Conclude Historical Trauma Led to Canadian Inuit Suicides

Scientists have concluded that the rapid rate of suicide among the First Nation Inuit of the Nunavut territory of Canada is likely due to a change in the intensity of social detriments, including historical trauma. As a result of the intergenerational transmission of historical trauma, they are seeing a measurable increase in the rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, violence, and alcohol and substance abuse.
 
The Partners in the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy released the Nunavut Suicide Follow-Back Study: Identifying the Risk factors for Inuit Suicide in Nunavut in 2013 titled Learning From Lives That Have Been Lived that details the increasingly high rates of suicide in the territory. The rate of suicide among the Inuit people of the territory has dramatically increased over the prior three decades, being just over 120 per 100,000 at the time the report was released, or roughly 10 times the Canadian suicide rate.
 
The study looked retrospectively into the lives of the 120 people that died by suicide in the territory from 2003-2006 as well as those with comparable backgrounds who are still living to better understand the risk and protective factors associated with suicide. Researchers conducted 498 interviews with friends and families, as well as with 120 living individuals that came from the same community of origin, had similar dates of birth, and were the same gender as the deceased. The age range of the deceased ranged from 13-62 in the study, and concluded that the average age of the individuals that died by suicide was 24.6 years old and that the majority of the deceased were male. The authors of the study wrote that they followed strict privacy guidelines to ensure that the anonymity of the individuals studied, their families, and their communities, is preserved.
 
The study concluded that there were significant demographic differences between the suicide and comparison groups, including:
·         More individuals in the comparison group were married or in a common-law relationship, whereas more individuals in the suicide group were single;
·         More individuals in the comparison group were employed or in school and more individuals who died by suicide were unemployed;
·         Individuals in the suicide group were more than twice as likely to have been involved in legal problems compared to the living individuals;
·         Individuals who died by suicide were almost four times as likely to have had less than 7 years of education than the comparison group.
 
The study also concluded that those that died by suicide and those in the comparison had differences in childhood experiences, including:
·         Significantly more individuals in the suicide group had experienced childhood abuse (47.5%) than the comparison group (27.5%);
·         Significantly more individuals in the suicide group had been physically and/or sexually abused (21.6% and 15.8% respectively) in childhood than the comparison group (13.3% and 6.7% respectively).  
 
Researchers asked the interviewees to complete the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale in order to determine how the suicide and comparison groups differed in impulsivity, and concluded that those that died by suicide showed significant higher rates of impulsiveness. The same was shown with aggression when the interviewees completed the Brown Goodwin Lifetime History of Aggression scale.   
 
The study also concludes that the rates of mental illness and substance abuse were significantly higher amongst those that died by suicide. While approximately 8% of the general Canadian population will experience major depression at some point in their lifetime, 61% of the 120 people studied that died by suicide were diagnosed with a major depression disorder opposed to 24% of the comparison group. The study also found that significantly more of those that died by suicide used marijuana, and nearly twice as many were diagnosed with a current alcohol abuse or dependence disorder than the comparison group. The suicide group also had significant differences than the comparison group when it came to personality disorders, including more with borderline personality disorder, conduct disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.
 
The report also concludes that those that died by suicide had accessed mental health services more than the comparison group. Twice as many individuals who died by suicide took psychiatric medication than the comparison group, however, the majority of individuals did not take psychiatric medication (80%). And twice as many that died by suicide were hospitalized for a psychiatric illness compared to the comparison group.
 
The Partners in the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy is a partnership between Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Embrace Life Council, Government of Nunavut, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Nunavut Coroner’s Office, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, McGill University and Douglas Mental Health University Institute. The group is working to better utilize resources in the territory after concluding that unemployment, childhood maltreatment, sexual abuse, impulsiveness, aggression, depression, and substance and alcohol abuse are risk factors for Inuit suicide in Nunavut. The group’s vision for the study is that it will help de-normalize suicide in the territory and bring the rate down to the Canadian average, or hopefully, below the national rate.
 
To review the study visit: https://alaskaindigenous.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/learning-from-lives...