A Statistical Report on the State of Indigenous Mental Health in Canada

By Maryssa Barras. Photo credit to CBC and Nadya Kwandibens.

This report is written as a response to the recent increase in mental health advocacy across Canada and the United States. The following examines the state of mental health services for Indigenous people in Canada in comparison to statistics regarding the vulnerability of Indigenous people to mental illness due to systemic reasons.

In 2015, Susan Aglukark (pictured above), an important Inuk musician, advocate, and motivational speaker, launched the #ArcticRoseWarCry social media campaign to address an ongoing Indigenous suicide epidemic in Nunavut. Since this initial campaign, several more communities such as Attawapiskat, Wapekeka, and Pimicikamak have launched initiatives in response to an increase in suicides, with the goals of identifying and rectifying the poor infrastructure for dealing with mental health in Indigenous milieus. In addition to campaigns, communities like the aforementioned Attawapiskat have called states of emergency in response to veritable suicide epidemics resulting in a cluster of deaths among youth in the community. The severity of the situation amongst Indigenous people remains largely ignored for a number of reasons by both the government of Canada and non-Indigenous mental health advocacy groups in the country. The following passage highlights some of the statistics which illustrate the severity of the suicide crisis amongst Indigenous peoples in Canada compared to the rest of the country.

In Indigenous communities, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people aged 10-29. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that suicide rates among First Nations youth are five to seven times that of non-indigenous youth, depending on their location and affiliation, with some of the worst suicide rates in Canada being amongst Inuit youth who are eleven times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. This statistic is especially jarring when considering that of the 1,400,685 recognised Indigenous people in Canada (4.3% of the total population), 55% (approximately 770,00 people) are under the age of 25, representing 5.9% of people aged 15-24 and 7% of people aged 14 and under in Canada. In addition to this, suicide rates among youth in rural communities are higher than those in urban environments, with between one third and one-half of all Indigenous people live in what are classified as rural environments in Canada, compared to only 18.9% of the total Canadian population living in rural areas.

These statistics are important when considering that, while suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-29 across Canada, Indigenous youth are disproportionately represented and are anywhere between 5 and 8 times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous youth in the country. The issue is particularly poignant amongst Inuit communities, who have the highest suicide rates in the country and who represent a large portion of the most remote communities in the country. While recent calls to attention for mental health advocacy amongst young people has incited mental health awareness campaigns across the country in universities and in youth organisations, these campaigns primarily address the needs of urban youth indiscriminately. While mental health advocacy in any scenario is positive, there is a severe lack of mental health services available to the most vulnerable sectors of the Canadian population both in terms of infrastructure and advocacy. The groups which face the greatest risks of suicide are therefore equally those with the least access to mental health services.

The Canadian Healthcare Budget in 2017 was distributed in a way which did not adequately address the needs of Indigenous peoples. In this year, $37.1 billion dollars were budgeted for Canadian healthcare, with a total of $828.2 million over a period of 5 years (or $165.6 million per year, 0.45% of the total healthcare budget for 2017) targeted towards First Nations and Inuit healthcare. Of this $828.2 million, $184.6 million is intended for mental wellness over a period of 5 years, approximately $36.92 million per year (0.01% of the total healthcare budget in 2017). It should be noted that this does not include Métis people, who were not allocated any specific healthcare funds in 2017. This leaves Indigenous people, representing 4.6% of the Canadian population, with only 0.45% of the healthcare budget despite having the highest suicide rates in the country and despite a large portion of the population living in rural areas with poor access to healthcare services.

References for Further Reading:

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada/Affaires Autochtones et Développement du Nord Canada
2013 Aboriginal Demographics from the 2011 National Household Survey. Planning, Research and Statistics Branch. Electronic document, https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/DAM/DAM-INTER-HQ-AI/STAGING/texte-text/abo_demo2013_1370443844970_eng.pdf, accessed February 16, 2018.

Centre for Suicide Prevention
2017 Indigenous Suicide Prevention. Webpage, https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/ indigenous-suicide-prevention/, accessed February 16, 2018.

Government of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada
Chapter 3 – A Strong Canada at Home and in the World. Budget 2017:Building a Strong Middle Class. Electronic document, https://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/plan/chap-03-en.html, accessed February 16, 2018.

Mihychuk, MaryAnn
2017 Breaking Point: The Suicide Crisis in Indigenous Communities. House of Commons Chambre des Communes Canada, Report of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Norther Affairs, Presented to the 1st session of the 42nd parliament. Electronic document, http://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/INAN/Reports/RP8977643/inanrp09/inanrp09-e.pdf, accessed February 16, 2018.

Morin, Brandi
2018 ‘We Are Dying’: Maskwacis Community Members Overwhelmed by Suicides. CBC News. Electronic document, http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/we-are-dying-maskwacis-community-members-overwhelmed-by-suicides-1.4486933, accessed February 16, 2018.

Statistics Canada
2013 Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit. National Household Survey, 2011. Analytical document. Electronic document, http://www12. statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.pdf, accessed February 16, 2018.

2012 Canada’s Rural Population Since 1851: Population and Dwelling Counts, 2011 Census. Census in Brief. Electronic document, http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement /2011/as-sa/98-310-x/98-310-x2011003_2-eng.pdf, accessed February 16, 2018.

2017 The Internet and Digital Technology. Electronic document, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/ 11-627-m/11-627-m2017032-eng.htm, accessed February 16, 2018.

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