Suicide and self-injury as a response to radical developmental and cultural change in First Nations youth

Young people kill themselves in heartbreaking numbers, and intended and unintended self-injuries are the leading causes of death among our youth. However tragic this is when viewed in the large, the rates of suicide in certain First Nations communities are even higher – in some cases hundreds of times higher – and arguably the highest in the world. I am working to identify both individual and cultural factors that might help reduce the horrendous toll. Previous research has shown a strong link between suicidal behaviours and disruptions in the usual process by which adolescents develop their self-identity. It has also revealed that among First Nations communities, the risk youth run for suicide turns very much on the extent to which different bands have succeeded in reconnecting to their own cultural pasts. My research is directed at understanding the ways cultural differences during the course of identity development help or hinder young people’s ability to insulate themselves from such risks. By understanding the implications of these differences and working out ways of sharing them with various First Nations Communities, it may be possible to assist these communities in reconstructing cultural practices that, once recovered, may serve to better insulate their youth from self-injury and suicide.