March 3, 2015 – The series of stories I wrote for the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) about suicide and suicide prevention among Inuit youth was the result of the Michener-Deacon fellowship that the Foundation awarded me. As I said in the video for the Foundation, the fellowship was invaluable in providing me with the time and the resources to research the pressing problem of suicide among First Nations and Inuit youth across Canada. Without the fellowship, I would not have been able to travel to Iqaluit, where I interviewed young people who had lost family members to suicide, and who had been suicidal themselves. I was also able to attend an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course there, and to meet people who had used the training to save lives. In addition, I got to know researchers who are deeply invested in trying to understand the causes of suicide among these young people and to design strategies and approaches to try to reduce suicide in these communities.
Because of the fellowship, I have been able to develop contacts and a deeper understanding of the problem, of the research, and of evidence-based strategies – both in Canada and in other jurisdictions. Those contacts and my ability to develop this area as a “beat” have enabled me to write stories about the implementation of the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy, the territorial government’s response to the suicide issue, and to break stories about new research showing that the rate of suicide among young Inuit men is lower in Iqaluit than in other communities in Nunavut. I could have done none of that without the fellowship.
Covering northern issues is, as you know, an expensive proposition – and the Michener-Deacon fellowship made my travel to Nunavut possible, as well as giving me the time to look at suicide in First Nations communities like Pikangikum, ON, and New Hazleton, BC, Moose Factory ON and on the Siksika First Nation outside of Calgary. It was only by listening to the stories of youth in all of these communities that I have been able to see the emergence of risk factors, such as childhood trauma, and its importance in later suicide attempts. I met young women in all of the communities I went who had suffered sexual abuse and young men who lived with the effects of domestic violence, alcoholism and gas-sniffing. I was able to attend prevention activities that worked on training older youth to mentor younger youth, and to talk with suicide prevention counsellors on crisis teams who had amazing success.
In addition to the stories that I wrote for CMAJ, I had planned to do an e-book for The Toronto Star’s Dispatches series – but unfortunately The Star cancelled Dispatches before I could do that.
I will continue to write in this area and to pursue further stories as a result of the contacts and the connections I have made, thanks to all of you. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity the fellowship afforded me.
Eggertson’s series of CMAJ articles about suicide and suicide prevention among Inuit youth won the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention’s 2014 media award.