To call attention to a suicide rate for Canada's Inuit that is eleven times higher than in the rest of Canada, Inuit commuinity groups are planning a series of public events across the country to mark the Tenth World Suicide Prevention day on September 10.
Held on September 10 each year, World Suicide Prevention Day is intended to raise awareness of suicide and how it can be prevented. As part of their campaign to promote World Suicide Prevention Day, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) has established a special website with resources and suggested activities to promote the event and the 2012 theme is : "Suicide Prevention across the Globe: Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope." Over the past decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the IASP have been using World Suicide Prevention Day to increase public awareness about suicide prevention and to reduce the stigma and the conspiracy of silence that often goes with it.
Already a major health problem across the world, WHO data estimates that five per cent of people worldwide attempt suicide at least once in their lives and that suicide rates have increased by at least sixty percent in many countries. In some ethnic communities in particular, such as Canada's Inuit, suicide rates have become alarmingly high.
According to Statistics Canada, suicides for Inuit youths under the age of nineteen living in Inuit regions were thirty times more likely to die from suicide than youths living in other parts of the country in 2004 to 2008 alone. Overall suicide rates for Canada'a Inuit of all ages is eleven times higher than for the rest of the country.
As part of the events to mark World Suicide Day across Canada, Inuit community groups are staging media events to raise awareness. In Ottawa, Canada's capital city, the National Inuit Youth Council is holding their sixth annual "Celebrate Life" event on the lawn near the Parliament buildings. Intended as a "peaceful protest", the event will feature Inuit performers and guest speakers. The overall theme for this year's event is to "ask for help" from family, friends, or health professionals. According to one organizer, "For a long time suicide in Inuit communities wasn’t talked about. We need to break the stigma that it is weak to ask for help. Really it’s the strong thing to do." Members of Parliament and Canada's Senate have also been invited to ask for more government assistance with special health programs.
A candlelight vigil is also planned in Nunavut's capital city, Iqaluit, on September 10 to mark the lives that have already been lost to suicide. The Suicide Prevention Day events are just part of a comprehensive media campaign designed to reduce suicide in Inuit communities across Canada. Along with ads and television commercials (see below), the goal of "breaking the silence" is just beginning to be heard.
Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Canada.