TORONTO, June 11, 2013 /CNW/ - Imagine if, within your community, 50 per cent of people were affected by suicide. Those people could be anyone: the man behind you in the line at the grocery store, your kid's favourite librarian, your next door neighbour, the woman who delivers your mail every morning.
For the residents of Neskantaga First Nation, this is not a hypothetical scenario. Suicide is what led this small, remote community in northwestern Ontario to declare a state of emergency earlier this spring.
For decades, the rate of suicide among Aboriginal Canadians has been several times higher than among the non-Aboriginal Canadian population - and rising dramatically. One study showed that in many Northern Ontario communities the rate had risen 400% in 10 years1.
What is it like to be a young person growing up in a community in crisis? At Kids Help Phone, professional counsellors hear from such young people regularly, including teens from remote communities like Neskantaga, Attawapiskat, Pikangikum, Cat Lake or Eabametoong, who are struggling with concerns like depression, poverty, and suicide.
Ten per cent of Kids Help Phone's clients self-identify as First Nations, Aboriginal, and Métis; about twice their representation in Canada's population. Like young people everywhere in Canada, in all types of communities, these youth face social, academic, and emotional pressures, anxieties, and uncertainties.
What we also hear from them, however, is that life is about as difficult as it can get, compounded with the everyday struggles of growing up. These kids are experiencing extraordinary challenges and feel helpless to stop the pain they are experiencing. As a result, they feel increasingly hopeless.
In 2010, Kids Help Phone led a project called Healthy Communities: Building Capacities to Better Support Aboriginal Youth. Through this initiative, Aboriginal youth told Kids Help Phone that when they need mental health support services, they often find their options are minimal, limited, and do not speak to the experiences of Aboriginal youth. In small communities where so many people already know each other, privacy, anonymity, and confidentiality are concerns that prevent many young people from reaching out.
"Many youth informed us that in the remote communities, we may be the only service that's realistically available for them," Todd Solomon, Kids Help Phone's Clinical Director, English Language Services says. "Understanding that context meant we had no choice but to adapt the way we supported them."
There is no single organization, government, or solution required - there are many. At Kids Help Phone, we recognize that young people are the experts in their own lives, and any approach to start the healing has to be community-driven and collaborative, with young people themselves fully involved.
We should all be alarmed that the youth suicide rate in Canada is the third highest in the industrialized world. Over 70 per cent of adults report that their mental health problems began in childhood or early adolescence2, yet mental health services remain fragmented and under-funded throughout the country.
If we want our youth to live in strong, healthy communities, we need to focus on long-term solutions to support and promote mental health and well-being.
Young people, and First Nations communities, can't do it alone. We all have a collective responsibility to care for the young people of Canada, and that includes all kids, everywhere.
You can help by encouraging the youth in your life to reach out, and to seek help whether it is for themselves or their friends; even a little bit of encouragement can engender hope in a young person. For some this can mean the difference between life and death.
You can also help support our nation's Aboriginal youth, whether they are thousands of kilometers away or just down the block. You can learn about and raise awareness among the people you know about the issues that young Aboriginal people face, as well as how First Nations peoples and culture are an important and embedded part of our collective identity as a nation.
By prioritizing the mental health and well-being of First Nations youth, we can collectively ensure that future headlines are about the resilience of their communities, rather than the tragedies.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or visit www.kidshelpphone.ca.
About Kids Help Phone
Kids Help Phone is a Canadian and world leader, known for our expertise in providing vital, innovative, and professional counselling services to children and youth. Since 1989 we have offered children, teens and young adults in Canada a critical lifeline of hope and support, through our free, anonymous and confidential service. Our professional counsellors support the mental health and well-being of young people ages five to 20, in urban, rural, and remote communities, by providing one-on-one counselling, information and resources online and by phone. Our internationally recognized, award-winning websites are considered a model of child-focused interactive design, and offer online counselling forums and engaging, therapeutic games, tools and information to encourage resilience and self-care. A community-based national charity, Kids Help Phone receives no core government funding and relies on community and corporate support to keep our essential service available. We're there for the *6.5 million young people in Canada, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English and in French.
*Source: represents the age group Kids Help Phone serves (from 5 to 20) according to Statistics Canada, 2011.
1 Acting On What We Know: Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations
2 Government of Canada, The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada, 2006
SOURCE Kids Help Phone