Hot! Act to mitigate on-reserve youth depression – health
July 21, 2011.    By Mark Lemstra, Special to The StarPheonix

In a recent study published by the Canadian Journal of Public Health, the authors reviewed the prevalence of depression and its causes among First Nations youth on reserves in Saskatchewan. The study reported that 25 per cent of 10-to 15-year-olds experience depression.

This is the first study to date that has examined the prevalence and determinants of depressed mood among First Nations youth living on-reserve. Large, nationwide surveys such as the Canadian Community Health Survey and the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth exclude those on reserves.

This is surprising, given that suicide accounted for 22 per cent of deaths among First Nations youth aged 12-19 years in 2000. Addressing depressed mood and other risk factors should be a priority.

In comparison, a study from Saskatoon in 2008 found that 9.8 per cent of Caucasian youth had depressed mood. In other words, on-reserve First Nations youth have nearly three times the prevalence of depression compared to Caucasian youth.

Statistics Canada indicates there are five main predictors of depressed mood in Canada, with income being the largest predictor. According to the agency, the difference in prevalence between low and high income Canadians is 11.6 per cent to 3.6 per cent respectively, approximately a three-fold difference.

Within First Nations reserves in the CJPH study, the average income was $8,572. Almost everyone had low income. Given this information, it is more likely that an environment of poverty and limited opportunities that exist on many of Saskatchewan’s reserves have a strong influence on depressed mood in their youth. For example, the study found that 60 per cent of youth who are always hungry had depressed mood, while only 18.7 per cent of those who are never hungry were depressed.

Although poverty explains much of the high prevalence of depression among First Nations youth, it does not explain why some low income youth become depressed and others do not. The risk indicators found in the study explain the difference.

The CJPH study found four independent risk indicators for depression among First Nations youth on reserves, after statistical adjustment. The first was not having someone who shows love and affection for these children most, or all, of the time. Not having this social support led to a 382 per cent increase to the risk of becoming depressed.

The second risk indicator was not working through events that happened earlier in their childhood, which increased the risk of depressed mood by 126 per cent. The third indicator was having a lot of arguments with one’s parents, which increased the risk of depression by 75 per cent. The final risk indicator was being physically bullied once or more in the past four weeks. This increased the risk of depression by 69 per cent.

Despite the high prevalence of poverty on reserves, modifying these risk indicators would reduce youth depression and the risk of many other negative outcomes that are linked to depression. These negative outcomes include major depression as an adult, anxiety disorders, suicide attempts, nicotine dependence, educational underachievement, unemployment and early parenthood.

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