Suicide among Aboriginal people Studies – Aims

“How come, when a suicide happens in Correctional Centres, there is an inquiry that goes on? How come we do not do that to the other suicides that happen in the homes? Perhaps we should try and find out what the background was of that person who committed suicide? What kind of education the person had?”- a Member of the Legislative Assembly 2003.

When details of the many lives cut short by suicide are collectively examined, patterns often emerge. This information is crucial in designing more effective suicide prevention and intervention programs.

A follow-back study is a ‘psychological autopsy’; it is a way to learn more about the risk factors and preventive factors for suicide in different populations.

The current study, which began in 2005, is the first follow-back study conducted in northern Canada and is expected to take four to five years to complete.



Detailed interviews will be conducted with:

  • The victims’ families and friends, to understand the details of their lives. Interviewers will cover a number of possible contributors to suicide such as family history, medical history, experiences at school and work, relationship history, alcohol and drug use, traumatic life events, and previous suicide attempts. Information on suicide will be obtained from the Office of the Chief Coroner of Nunavut.
  • People who have attempted suicide but who are still alive, to learn more about what makes a difference in peoples’ lives after they attempt suicide.
  • Nunavummiut who have never attempted suicide, their families and friends, for comparison purposes.

Solutions to high rates of suicide in Aboriginal communities must come from within those communities. Our researchers believe that much can be learned from individuals who have been through a period of conflict and suffering and recovered from it. Their stories will reveal the physical, psychological, social and spiritual roots of resilience.

Building on research already undertaken by Rod McCormick, Ph.D. and his colleagues in British Columbia, this component of the project uses a qualitative approach to address the research question: “What are the critical incidents or turning points that contribute to or hinder survival and healing in suicidal Aboriginal youth?”


  • Exploring the healing and recovery experiences of previously suicidal Aboriginal youth.
  • Using insights and experiences of Aboriginal participants to identify potential interventions that can facilitate healing and the reduction of suicide.

The research is being conducted in eight settings across Canada: one rural and one urban Aboriginal community in four regions (west, south central, eastern and northern). This diversity of sites will allow the team to identify aspects of resilience and recovery that are related to specific geographic, social and cultural dimensions of different communities.

Based on the findings of the follow-back study and the resilience study, the team will collaborate with community members and partners to develop a culturally appropriate suicide prevention program.

A major aim of the team is the transfer of knowledge to community members through the application of established principles of community-based participatory research.

A two-way communication process

  • Communities and participants have knowledge and experiences they wish to share to deepen understanding of mental health problems, wellness and resilience.
  • The research team, in turn, has research methods and specific knowledge from previous studies to share with community partners, students, health professionals and helpers.


Knowledge transfer will be made through a series of meetings, workshops, publications and presentations.

Another major aim of the team is to promote training on suicide health research for Aboriginal populations in Canada.


  • To promote, whenever possible, training of Aboriginal researchers, students and research assistants.
  • To hold annual meetings and workshops at which students, clinicians and health planners can take part and learn more about research methods and results.
  • To organize a workshop on methods for Aboriginal suicide research in conjunction with the annual McGill Summer Program in Social & Cultural Psychiatry run by Laurence Kirmayer, MD. This will attract international researchers to share their skills and discuss innovative methods for future research.