A recent study published by three Dalhousie health researchers directly links income-related inequalities to higher rates of psychological distress and suicidal behaviours among Indigenous peoples living off-reserve in Canada.
Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last month, the study by Mohammad Hajizadeh, Amy Bombay, and Yukiko Asada identifies three main socioeconomic factors that impact the mental health of Canada’s Indigenous population: food insecurity, income inequality and employment.
Of these three factors, food insecurity — wondering where one’s next meal will come from — holds the strongest link to psychological distress and suicidal behaviours.
Left-to-right: Study authors Mohammad Hajizadeh, Amy Bombay and Yukiko Asada.
“Food insecurity is the number one factor that explains higher levels of suicidal behaviour and higher levels of psychological distress among low socioeconomic status Indigenous population,” says Dr. Hajizadeh, who specializes in health economics.
“Food insecurity explains 40 per cent of the difference in levels of psychological distress we see between low and high socioeconomic status indigenous peoples.”
Shifting from reactionary relief to preventative policies
Many initiatives across Canada have prioritized mental health care among Indigenous communities. Dr. Hajizadeh says that while these initiatives are important, there should be more focus on addressing the broader range of socioeconomic determinants of mental health such as food insecurity among the Indigenous population.
Cheryl Kozey, acting dean of the Faculty of Health, praises the study and its potential to help shape future policies to address the socioeconomic factors which hamper the quality of mental health of Indigenous peoples.
“We have to look at these [policies] within the whole context," she says. "It’s not just how we treat mental illness … but how can we actually provide the supportive environment for people to able to be healthy and well?”
From awareness to action
Dr. Kozey remains optimistic that the researchers’ connections to the local community will ease the process of knowledge mobilization, making policies easier to implement.
“[The research topic] needs to be something that is important to the communities. I think overall our researchers have done an excellent job building relationships with the communities they are working with.”
Dr. Hajizadeh says he is thankful for the immense support his team received during their research process and following the publication of their study. He adds that he believes the reason the publication garnered such a large media and academic following is because the majority of Canadians are interested in what can be done to improve the health of Indigenous population in Canada.
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