Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Facilitating Mental Health Literacy: Targeting Canadian First Nations Youth/ Faciliter la Littératie En Santé Mentale: Cibler Les Jeunes Canadiennes Des Premières Nations

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Facilitating Mental Health Literacy: Targeting Canadian First Nations Youth/ Faciliter la Littératie En Santé Mentale: Cibler Les Jeunes Canadiennes Des Premières Nations

Article excerpt

First Nations (FN) youth1 represent 25% of the total deaths by suicide in Canada, rates that are sadly on the rise (Kirmayer, 2012; MacNeil, 2008). There are a myriad of reasons proposed as to why this rate is greater than the rates for Canadian youth overall, including longstanding effects of colonization and ongoing discrimination, marginalization, and socioeconomic struggles (Gone, 2009). Despite the obvious benefits of targeted mental health literacy, such programs, and literacy specific to FN youth, are sorely lacking. Canadian counsellors have a role to play in FN youth mental health literacy programs that engage these youth in culturally appropriate ways and empower them to overcome longstanding multigenerational issues that arose surrounding the effects of colonization.

We begin with personal placement of ourselves as authors. The first author identifies herself as a Metis woman with Cree and Acadian roots. She is currently pursuing graduate studies to foster her passion and curiosity in developing culturally relevant tools for mental health education and counselling youth. The second author identifies herself a member of the cultural majority and as an ally to her FN family, friends, and neighbours. She is a registered psychologist and Canadian Certified Counsellor who has a clinical practice in rural northeastern Alberta and a passion for professional ethics.

In this article we provide an overview of considerations required for effective mental health literacy for Canadian FN youth. We review mental health considerations for youth, highlight the situation for FN youth, provide an overview of literacy programming, and then suggest how to integrate culture and context, youth engagement, and youth empowerment to facilitate the program development or adaptation of existing mental health literacy programs to effectively target Canadian FN youth.

MENTAL WELLNESS AND CANADAS YOUTH

Our youth are our future and our responsibility. As Canadians, particularly those of us in the helping professions, we see that our roles include fostering the mental health and wellness of the upcoming generation. We take the stance that, as a society, we are failing in this role and failing our youth. The prevalence of mental illness among Canadian youth is estimated at 15% (Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, 2004) with 50-75% of adult mental disorders manifesting during youth (Kessler et al., 2005). Depression is the most commonly cited mental illness, for which treatment is sought at a rate of 1 in 10 youth (Government of Canada, 2006). This rate is consistent with international increases in depression and subsequent disability in general (Blease, 2012; World Health Organization, 2001).

Mental wellness is thus impacted in a profound way, and the risks are exacerbated during this developmentally sensitive age. Depression and other disorders impact the daily functioning, self-esteem, and relationships of youth (Corrigan & Lundin, 2001; Moses, 2009). The Canadian Mental Health Association (2014) and Kirmayer (2012) remind us of the sobering reality that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth. Furthermore, suicide rates and suicide risk are higher for FN youth compared to non-FN youth (Kirmayer, 2012; MacNeil, 2008; Weir & Wallington, 2001). Since "up to 25% of the total deaths by suicide in this age group may be attributed to FN youth" (Kirmayer, 2012, p. 1016), a statistic increasing at an alarming rate (Kirmayer, 2012; MacNeil, 2008; Weir & Wallington, 2001), it is essential to look specifically at the context for FN youth in Canada.

FN YOUTH IN CANADA

Given our broad definition of FN peoples (see Note 1), we do not aim to present the reader with a cohesive definition of who FN youth are. Rather, we wish to unpack some of the cultural and contextual aspects that have impacted this diverse group as a whole in Canada. We cannot understand this current context without first setting the sociohistorical stage. …

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