Thursday, November 25, 2010

Indigenous' Mental Health

“Mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2009).”
Indigenous people are more commonly known to us as Aboriginals. “Aboriginal Peoples include people of Indian, Inuit, and Métis ancestry, with diverse Indigenous languages, cultures, and traditions (Canadian Mental Health Association).”  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Indigenous represent approximately three percent of Canada’s population.
My view upon Aboriginals has certainly changed throughout this course and its requirements. The article Aboriginal People/First Nations by the Canadian Mental Health Association, states that over half of Aboriginals are under twenty four years of age, and forty percent are under the age of sixteen. This could be due to the fact that Aboriginals have a shorter life expectancy, experience more violence, and experience more accidental deaths. Also, the Aboriginals have a higher infant mortality rate and have more chronic health conditions than other groups in Canada. The article also speaks about the fact that Aboriginals live in poorer health conditions and poverty, and are discriminated at by many.  
“Many mental health problems of Aboriginals arise from a long history of colonization, residential school trauma, discrimination and oppression, and losses of land, language, and livelihood (Canadian Mental Health Association).” We all watched how devastating the video on the residential schools were. Personally, I did not know much about the residential schools until I watched the video. It was devastating to know that children were taken from their homes and put into schools where they were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. Along with the abuse, the Indigenous children were forced to stop speaking their language and were unable to participate in their own cultural traditions.
“Rates of mental health problems, such as suicide, depression, and substance abuse, are significantly higher in Aboriginal communities than in the general population (Canadian Mental Health Association).” I agree with the Canadian Mental Health Association that Aboriginals have higher rates of mental illnesses because of past events, like the residential schools, colonization, loss of land, etc. Also, many Aboriginals are discriminated at and this definitely contributes, along with their low levels of poverty, and poor health conditions (e.g. inadequate food).  
I think that Aboriginals with mental illnesses need to be treated, especially because many mental illnesses lead to alcoholism and suicide. While reading the article First Nations, Inuit and Aboriginal Health, I was shocked at the following statistics: “Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age” and “First Nations youth commit suicide about five to six times more often than non-Aboriginal youth” (Health Canada, 2007).” According to the article, Aboriginal Mental Health: The statistical reality, alcohol is a major concern among the Aboriginal community.
It is quite clear than many Aboriginals in Canada have mental health illnesses. I completely understand why the numbers are so high amongst Indigenous people with mental illness. Their people have experienced a life in which many of us cannot compare to.  Although there are programs available to treat individuals, Aboriginals are not always given the equal chance to receive the treatment they deserve. In order to treat the Aboriginals with mental illnesses and to reduce the number of mental illnesses, those individuals need to engage in programs and health services designed to help the mentally ill. They also need to receive proper, certified counselling.  An example of a program that is available to people in Manitoba (including Aboriginals) with mental illnesses is the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority states: “Our community mental health program includes a range of community-based programs designed to help adults experiencing mental health problems. We provide assessment, crisis intervention, counselling, consultation, referral, case management, rehabilitation and education services in a variety of settings (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority).The only negative part to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is it is only available to people eighteen years and older.

However, Aboriginals (including children) have other opportunities where they could receive the help, support and treatment they desire. They could seek other programs and health services that are available throughout Canada, and they could see individual counsellors or psychologists to help cure their mental disorder or at least treat it. By using the mental health services and programs designed to help individuals with mental illnesses, it is one way to ensure the decrease of alcoholism and suicide. On the other hand, society needs to contribute as well. Many people need to be supported into getting help. If Aboriginals are discriminated at, they are less likely to go out and get the help they need. The discrimination needs to stop, and the support needs to begin. If counsellors, psychologists, and mental health services open up their doors to the Aboriginals with mental illnesses, the Aboriginals in need of help are more likely to use the resources out there.  It is time for the deserving to receive the adequate help they need.

Ashley R.
 Public Health Agency of Canada. (2009, April 23). Mental Illness. Retrieved from

Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Aboriginal People/First Nations. Retrieved from 

Health Canada. (2007, July 19). Mental Health and Wellness. Retrieved from 

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. (n.d.). Community Mental Health Services. Retrieved from 


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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post Ashley. I like how you presented the issues, then took a strong stand in regards to what needs to be done. I agree that the discrimination felt by Aboriginal people must make it very difficult to seek and obtain treatment for mental or physical issues. As you said, the discrimination needs to stop and I think that the more people understand how harmful discrimination is, the sooner efforts will be made to change.
    Crystal M.

  4. Ashley,
    I agree that Aboriginals need assistance with mental health problems. I am quite surprised that the statistics you stated are so high, especially the percentage of Aboriginals 16 years and younger. The Aboriginals have experienced several traumatic events within their history, including when the Europeans attempted to assimilate the Aboriginal populations to conform to European standards. It is my belief that to address this problem properly, in a productive and lasting manner, further research needs to be done to conclude what the needs are in order to effectively treat Aboriginals with mental illness, many attributed to the trauma induced by the residential schools. Removed from their homes and culture, neglected by caregivers, abused both physically and emotionally has had a lasting effect on this population and has had a ripple effect on subsequent generations. There is no question that this traumatic experience has led to addictions and suicide for those people directly affected by the residential schools. Generationally the negative “life skills” the Aboriginal students learnt, coupled with the ongoing substance abuse and community problems, unfortunately have been passed on to their children. The problems are continuously snowballing out of control. Given the effects that the residential schools had on the Aboriginals and the fact that they were initiated by the Canadian Government, and wrongly so, the mental health of Aboriginals, as with any Canadian, is certainly the responsibility of Canada.
    -Darcie B.

  5. Aboriginal people deserve the same help that we do! People just sterotype them and say they are just "faking" their illness so they can get money to support their habits but what if they are not, health services are denying them the help they need and deserve just as much as another person with a disablitiy. I hope that by the time our children have children society will be more of an equal place to live.

  6. I was not surprised when you mentioned that rates of mental health problems are very high in aboriginals considering their history. Well I don’t know much about what really took place but I watched a video in my sociology class on the residential schools and I have heard a few stories about the aboriginals and I honestly feel sorry for them. I agree with you that they should be treated equally just like everyone else.


  7. I completely agree with the depth imperialism and residential schools have had on the Indigenous population. I also agree with your recommendation on how to better our policies to try and alleviate the overwhelming disparities in healthcare between the general public. However I do wonder if a more targeted approach would have a more successful outcome. Knowing that the Indigenous population especially within Manitoba is the specific minority to need help, would it be prejudice of us to put more of our efforts in primarily helping them rather than our current “broader” provincial welfare system? This is not to say we help someone who isn’t from an Indigenous background less but we put a greater focus on the Indigenous population.