New research with NWT organization Foxy/Smash examines some of the risk factors for depression among northern teens and points to possible interventions.
The study of NWT youth aged 13 to 18 found those who identified as cisgender women, LGBQ2S, or being food insecure had double the odds of experiencing more severe depression – with dating violence a key factor.
“It’s not a small finding that these are profound stressors that we need to be thinking about when we’re considering how to advance mental health,” said Carmen Logie, an associate professor at the University of Toronto. Logie, the Canada research chair in global health equity and social justice with marginalized populations, was one of the study’s authors.
“These are really significant, they play a significant role, and they’re all things that we can modify.”
Logie said research has previously shown high rates of depression among teens in the North but analysis of the underlying social causes had been limited.
“Just documenting the rates of depression in any population in any region, without simultaneously documenting possible solutions, doesn’t help us move toward creating change,” she said.
“The more we can get a nuanced understanding of a problem, the better we’re able to address it.”
The study acknowledged the contribution of residential schools, intergenerational trauma, and ongoing colonial practices in Canada – like the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the child welfare and criminal justice systems – to mental health trends.
The findings were based on a survey of 399 teens that participated in Foxy/Smash workshops in 2018-2019 in Aklavik, Behchokǫ̀, Fort McPherson, Fort Liard, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Łútsël K’é, Ndilǫ, Norman Wells, Tuktoyaktuk, Ukukhaktok, Whatì, and Yellowknife.
More than half of survey respondents said they experienced depression, with 25 percent reporting mild symptoms and 28 percent reporting moderate to severe symptoms.
‘Solutions already exist in communities’
Logie said addressing depression in adolescents decreases their odds of experiencing depression as an adult, and linking mental health, food insecurity, intimate partner violence and LGBQ2S needs, rather than considering them to be siloed issues, can help.
“I really think that the solutions already exist in communities in the NWT,” she said.
Foxy/Smash works to promote mental and sexual health and healthy relationships across the North, most prominently through a series of annual workshops. Logie said that work helps to challenge gender norms, connect people with their communities, and encourages healthy coping strategies like traditional and on-the-land activities.
“They’re looking at the solutions as being within culture, within the land, within teachings, within community,” Logie said.
“They’re doing a really great job at rethinking masculinities and gender norms. That helps everybody, when we challenge gender norms around masculinity and what it means to be a man.”
Other solutions, Logie said, include amplifying activism and providing more resources to address food security, along with greater LGBQ2S representation and acceptance.
“Another solution is to raise awareness about depression as being a common experience to reduce stigma so that people can start feeling like they can have conversations when they’re feeling depressed … about what are the stressors in their life and what are some of the ways they can be supported in their community.”
Correction: August 8, 2021 – 9:22 MT. This article initially referred to Carmen Logie as an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. She is in fact an associate professor. Our report has been amended.