Pictured above: Indigenous arctic youth at a group workshop for the Project CREATeS suicide prevention initiative.
By Sean O’Malley, Senior Media Relations Advisor
An online video project is adding new voices to the conversation about suicide prevention by featuring powerful first-person stories told by Indigenous youth from across the Arctic.
Project CREATeS (Circumpolar Resilience Engagement and Action Through Story), is a digital storytelling initiative co-led by CAMH through the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) of the Arctic Council. It features over 30 videos made by Indigenous youth from member countries of the Arctic Council, including Canada, The United States, Finland and Greenland (an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark).
The Scientific Lead for Project CREATeS, CAMH psychiatrist Dr. Allison Crawford, said that despite an ongoing youth mental health crisis in the north that features suicide rates up to 60 times higher than the national average, the voices of Indigenous youth themselves have often been missing in the search for solutions.
“There actually has not been a lot of research into how youth in these northern Indigenous communities experience suicide,” said Dr. Crawford. “The SDWG has made a huge investment in advancing suicide prevention. Despite talking about doing all these things for youth, however, youth are often not engaged in a meaningful way. These stories are a beginning to important conversations and input from the people most impacted by suicide.”
The video vignettes were produced by Indigenous youth between the ages of 18 and 25, all impacted by suicide in their families and/ or communities.
“This kind of visual storytelling has an emotional resonance with the public that you don’t get from articles in a scientific journal,” said Dr. Crawford. “It pulls you in and connects you to these young people, their stories, their strengths, and the issues they struggle with.”
People like Ooka Calvin from Kuujjuaraapik in Nunavik (northern Quebec), who titled her story Children, My Hope for the Future.
“When I start to question the purpose of life, I think about all of my babies, and I realize that a whole team surrounds me to help deliver life’s meaning,” she says. “My way of coping with overwhelming amounts of stress and sadness is to go out on our land to smell, feel, and listen to the waves of the water, the wind, and the creatures that inhabit them.”
Or Simon Coady, an Inuk currently living in Ottawa. “What do we find when we’re lost? Ourselves! Know your worth. It’s all a balancing act,” Cody states in a video titled Street Smarts. “Juggling inner peace and anxiety, wrestling self-identity, dealing with life’s discrepancies—just a bittersweet moment to remind you that you’re still alive.” Calvin and Coady are youth who were recruited to the project by the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a Permanent Participant on the Arctic Council, and a co-Lead of Project CREATeS with the SDWG.
Dr. Crawford says one of the most satisfying aspects of the project for the youth who participated was the opportunity to bond with Indigenous youth from other countries.
“They all valued the opportunity to tell their stories, but the connection and feeling of solidarity with each other was just as meaningful for them.” Project CREATeS advances the continued development of this youth network.
Dr. Crawford said that suicide prevention in Arctic Indigenous communities was a top priority when Canada took its turn as Chair of the Arctic Council in 2014, and remained prominent through the US and Finland Chairmanships; the hope is that this project keeps the issue at the forefront through Iceland’s current Chairmanship.
“We want these stories to be viewed not just by other youth but by policy makers as well.”