Suicide by children and adolescents is considered as an expression of alienation and dissatisfaction. Suicide is not only an indication of intent and an outcome, but also it’s an under-recognized measure of health status in our collective social well being. Its can also be viewed as a gage for success of our social institutions in integrating our youth into adults successfully. Just like the death of a canary in a coal mine, suicide is a sentinel event not only to the surviving families but also to the whole community (Clarke, Frankish & Green 1997). Suicide actually draws more attention from the community than the other forms of violence since it reflects the social well being of the general community. According to Haddon matrix, as applied to youth suicide, mostly the causes of suicide are related to mental health problems, use of drugs, and some other acute precipitating factors.
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According to Leenaars (1998), Canada’s overall rate of suicide is generally about 14 per every 100,000 while that of US is about 12 per 100,000 (p.187). These rates both in Canada and US have been found to vary with the economic situations. When the economy improves the rates reduce and when it deteriorates the rates increase. Research shows that men are less likely to attempt suicide as compared to women although males are approximately four times more likely to succeed in committing suicide than women. According to a Canadian task researching on preventive health care, since the late 1970s suicide has accounted for approximately 2% of all annual deaths in Canada. The task force also showed that all the suicide deaths reported in 1991 involved men.
Adolescence is a time of spectacular changes while the journey from child to adult can be complicated and testing. Adolescents who are mostly school children experience huge pressure that requires them to excel at school, at home as well as in other social groups. Depression, which is a mental disorder mostly associated with adults can also affect the teens as a result of these pressures. Young children mostly lack the experience that difficult times brought by these pressures do not last forever. Sometimes, these pressures can therefore become a source of great pain to the teens who may then seek relief from suicide. Current reports indicate that suicide is the second leading cause of death after motor vehicle accidents, among the young people (OMalley).
Reasons of suicide among Canadian teens
Across Canada, the aboriginal people suffer from more suicidal cases more than the general Canadian population (Leenaars 1998 p.189). Many reasons for this phenomenon have been put forward by a number of researchers. Some of the reasons put across include; geographical isolation, socio-economic disadvantage, effects of the long internal colonialism oppression and the rapid changes in culture (Leenaars 1998 p.189).
In 1980 the Canadian government moved in to address the issue of suicide by appointing a Task Force on suicide. The task force identified seven groups of people in Canada as being at high risk of committing suicide. One of them was the young people specifically the teens. While young males between the age of 20-24 years has been the group with greatest rise in suicide cases for the last twenty years, research also indicates a tremendous increase in suicide cases among teens of 15- 19 years (Shaver). In this group males have been found more likely to commit suicide than females. This paper evaluates the causes of suicide among teens and specifically the aboriginal teens and why the rates are higher among the aboriginal teens.
Many scholars argue that there exists no definite explanation as to why teenagers in Canada and around the world are committing suicide now more than ever before. According to Shaver, suicide is a multi-dimensional behaviour and therefore hard to define it in any conventional way. According to Shaver, there are three types of suicide which are altruistic, egoistic and anomic suicide. In the first kind of suicide the individual (teenager), is usually so absorbed into a group of peers or a society such that he or she will commit suicide due to the supposed reimbursements of the group (Shaver). The other type of suicide, egoistic, which is also found among teens, happens when there is a strong value system, weak integration within the group and an uncontrollable sense of personal accountability. In such situations the group happens to have no skills of providing the teen with an enough source of outside strength and support. The group also happens not to be significantly assimilated so as to mitigate the teen’s feelings of responsibility and guilt for moral weakness and failure.
The third type of suicide is the anomic suicide. This seems to properly explain the reasons for suicide among teens since it hinges on experiences that are very much related to adolescence. Teens commit this kind of suicide due to feelings of loneliness, isolation and personal confusion that are mostly caused by a major disruption in ones way of life. This disruption could be a loss of a close relative or a perceived total failure in the teen’s responsibilities like education and other social duties (Shaver).
Why suicide rates are higher among the aboriginal teens
Suicide among native youths of the north has gotten to epidemic proportions. The rate of suicide among the natives is so high due to certain reasons like social economic disadvantages and psycho-biological factors (Anawak, Leenaars, & Taparti, 1998). Among the native communities, poverty is very common while the conditions of living are usually very crowded. Sewer and water facilities in these native regions are very poor while a significant number of people ling in these areas are illiterate. The present economic hardship in these areas has actually made the government’s plan to integrate these people will the rest of the society to fail. Many policies have been to promote the economy of the natives have failed hence leaving them without means of supporting themselves. Poverty therefore is a major cause of suicide among these people and their teens.
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The other cause for increased suicide among the aboriginal Canadian teens is a psycho-biological factor. The natives are believed to be less mentally healthy as compared to the rest of the Canadian population. However some data indicate that natives are mentally healthier than other Canadians, but these results are not credible owing to the fact that there are limited services for mental health present in the in the native communities (religious Tolerance). The mental disorders among the aboriginal people are associated with their past colonial sufferings. Moreover the traditional conjecture by the government that the natives are uncivilized, inferior, and lack moral virtues as compared to the European society has been internalized by several natives (Chandler & Lalonde). This subordination therefore leads to anxiety disorders, clinical depression and tendencies of self destruction including suicide.
Culture of the aboriginals and its contribution to suicide
According to (Religious Tolerance), the government of Canada had adopted several policies which included demolition of most of the religion and cultural values of the natives. The government used the Christian churches in this job where the native traditions were replaced by with Christian values. The main players in this forced alienation of the natives were the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. As a result many aboriginal children grow up with only a little knowledge about their original culture. The Canadian government funded the religious institutions to put up residential school systems. According to Leenaars (1998), the native children were occasionally kidnapped and taken far away from their families. In school these children were separated from members of their community and forced to adopt a new language, tradition, religion and culture (p.163). Though quite unspoken, these children also suffered a great deal of physical and sexual harassment at the religious schools (Religious Tolerance). This confusion in culture and harassment from the society has resulted to depression, loss of culture, and problems for parents to raise future generations. Poor bringing up of aboriginal children by their parents therefore contributes to their tendency to commit suicide.
The rates of suicide in Canada have significantly amplified in the 1960s and 1970s and though they levelled out in the 80s, these rates are still very high. According to figures from statistics Canada, the general suicide rate rose from 7.6 to 14.8 per 100,000 people. The suicide rates in the last decade have been considerably stable although they were still double of those experienced between 1921 and 1961 (Shaver). These rates have also been well above those recorded during the 1930s depression times. However it’s essential to bear in mind that the actual number of suicide cases in Canada may be unreported. On normal occasion a death is only testified by legal and medical authorities by clearly proving that the victim actually intended to kill him/herself.
According to OMalley, suicide rates among first nation teens are five to seven time higher than those of other young people in Canada. Reports indicate that suicide rates among these teens are among the highest suicidal rates in the world, with them being eleven times higher than the general rates of Canadian nation. Knowing how health care and social services providers deal with emotions of teens in such emotion laden circumstances is important in order to fully understand the suicide epidemic that is presently facing the Canada’s first nation. Suicidal rates among Aboriginal population in some areas of Canada are six to seven times those of national average. These rates are higher among males of 15-24 years of age. The teens have particularly shown high suicidal rates among the natives while the present research indicates a tragic malaise in the Northern part. Among the causes of suicide in these people are the memories of unbearable subordination by the colonials and childhood separation from their families (Leenaars 1998 p.163). Drug abuse, accessibility to fire arms, intra-familiar and intra-personal conflict and having friends who have attempted or committed suicide are some of the other causes.
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