Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy

The Role of School Counsellors in the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy: An Illustration/Le Role Des Conseillers et Conseilleres Scolaires Dans le Cadre De la Strategie Nationale De Prevention Du Suicide Chez Les Jeunes Autochtones : Une Illustration

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy

The Role of School Counsellors in the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy: An Illustration/Le Role Des Conseillers et Conseilleres Scolaires Dans le Cadre De la Strategie Nationale De Prevention Du Suicide Chez Les Jeunes Autochtones : Une Illustration

Article excerpt

The vulnerability of youth to commit suicide is a growing societal concern. In a seminal report about mental health and illness among the Canadian population, the Government of Canada (2006) identified suicide as the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, right after motor vehicle accidents. Data specific to Aboriginal people in this report indicated that the Aboriginal youth suicide rate is five-fold greater for boys and seven-fold greater for girls than the rate for non-Aboriginals, making suicide the leading cause of death for this cohort. Aboriginal peoples are the original inhabitants of Canada who were colonized by Europeans in their own land, and who were subsequently subjected to decades of racist government policies involving forced assimilation through residential schools and segregation onto remote reservations (Blue, Darou, & Ruano, 2010; Kirmayer et al., 2007; Waldram, 1997). The total Aboriginal population in Canada is approximately 1.5 million, including individuals who identify as First Nations, Metis (mixed European and Aboriginal ancestry), and Inuit, together encompassing over 634 different bands (Statistics Canada, 2015), scattered across the provinces and territories. Approximately 50% of the Aboriginal population in Canada is under the age of 25 (Statistics Canada, 2015). Health Canada's (2004) statistical profile of Aboriginal Canadians, which also included detailed information pertaining to suicide, highlighted that suicide accounts for 22% of all deaths among youth ages 10 to 19, and 16% of all deaths during early adulthood.

Even more alarming is the fact that when suicide happens among youth and young adults, it often happens in clusters, with one completed suicide being followed by several other attempted and completed suicides (Joiner, 1999; Scherr & Reinemann, 2011; Zenere, 2009). Cluster suicides that have occurred among Aboriginal communities in Canada have followed a suicide pattern referred to as a point cluster, with multiple completed suicides or suicide attempts taking place within the same geographic space and/or time period (Isaak et al., 2010; Kirmayer et al., 2007; Tousignant, Morin, Vitenti, De Serres, & Laliberte, 2014). These point cluster suicides often occur within institutional settings such as schools, hospitals, or specific communities and are most often due to adverse familial, social, and environmental conditions shared by youth in a particular Aboriginal community or reserve. These adverse conditions also contribute to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness among Aboriginal youth (Kirmayer et al., 2007).

Family and community-level trauma from a history of colonization and residential schooling has also been found to be a contributing factor to a higher than average suicide rate in Aboriginal youth (Elias et al., 2012; Kirmayer et al., 2007). Consistent with this finding, cluster suicides among Aboriginal communities often occur among biological relatives or next of kin with collective trauma experiences, and show a trend of spreading from youth to adult family and community members (Isaak et al., 2010; Kirmayer et al., 2007).

Elias et al. (2012) empirically demonstrated the multigenerational effects of being a residential school survivor on suicidal tendencies in a sample of close to 3,000 First Nations Canadians in Manitoba. These researchers found that children and grandchildren of residential school survivors, who also experienced familial abuse, were 17 times more likely to have a history of suicide attempts than those without multigenerational exposure to residential schooling. Ongoing struggles with grief about the loss of identity, culture, land, and family/community connections, as well as limited emotion regulation strategies among children and grandchildren of residential school survivors, may lead some youth to view suicide as their only option (Masecar, 2007).

This article describes contributing factors for cluster suicides and challenges in suicide prevention and intervention within Aboriginal communities. …

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