Towards an understanding of suicide among Aboriginal people

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Gosek, Gwen M.
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Suicide rates among the Aboriginal people of North America have increased at an alarming rate over the past three decades. While not all Aboriginal communities reflect the increasing rates, the overall increase, especially among the 15 to 24 year old age group, is a grave concern at the societal, community, family and individual levels. While the concerns related to suicide in Aboriginal communities are documented in the literature, the information is generally researched and presented from a mainstream perspective or approach. The objectives of this study were to develop an overview of suicide in Aboriginal communities from an Aboriginal perspective and to explore the use of the Medicine Wheel as a culturally appropriate approach to understanding and working with suicide with Aboriginal people. The process included a literature review of Durkheim's theory on suicide which is a theory commonly drawn on to interpret the incidence of suicide in Aboriginal populations. The literature review also includes an overview of Aboriginal and mainstream society's world views, an overview of the occurrence of suicide in the Aboriginal communities and of the Medicine Wheel concept. The purposes of the literature review were: l) to provide a basis for determining the incidence and factors associated with Aboriginal suicide,2) to compare the world views of mainstream society and Aboriginal people, 3) to develop an understanding of Durkheim's theory as it is applied to Aboriginal suicide, and 4) begin to conceptualize the Medicine Wheel in relation to an Aboriginal world view. An important aspect of this study included interviews with traditional elders and Aboriginal community leaders in order to develop a deeper understanding of the Aboriginal view of suicide in the community and of the Medicine Wheel concept. Although the interview responses were supportive of the literature review of suicide among Aboriginal people in many respects, there were differences in the emphasis placed on contributing factors. The research available on Aboriginal world view, indicates a contrast between the world views of mainstream society and Aboriginal people. These differences in world views present a challenge to applying a Durkheimian approach to suicide in the Aboriginal context. The challenges of applying Durkheim's concept of anomie and the possibility of incorporating the Medicine Wheel concept are discussed in terms of implications in the field of social work.