A Culturally-Relevant Perspective on This Issue


Depression is a mental disorder that presents with the following symptoms: feelings of sadness; loss of interest or pleasure; guilt, low self esteem; irregular sleep patterns; suicidal thoughts and attempts; loss of appetite, and poor concentration [1].

Aboriginal people are more likely than the general population to be affected by depression and are affected by a number of factors that can contribute to depression, including: the effects of residential schools, loss of cultural identity, poverty, high rates of substance abuse, alcoholism, and sexual abuse. [2]. These long term effects of colonization particularly affect Aboriginal women, in the form of inadequate housing and poor access to appropriate health care [3].  Aboriginal people have a  higher rate of depression and are more likely to seek help for this condition compared to the general Canadian population.

First Nations

The 2005 Regional Longitudinal Health Survey found that 30% of First Nations people felt sad or depressed for two or more weeks [4]. The rate of depression in First Nations living off-reserve was 12%, compared to 7% in the general population [5].  It is estimated that the rate of depression on reserve is even higher. Despite high rates of depression, First Nations people may be more likely to seek help than the general population. A study in Alberta found that First Nations were 2.5 times more likely than other residents to visit a doctor for depression [6].


There are very little data regarding depression among Métis communities. Since the Métis experienced similar long-term effects of colonization, such as residential schools, loss of cultural identity, and poverty, it is likely that the depression rate among Métis is similar to those among other Aboriginal peoples. A recent study among Métis in Northwestern Saskatchewan supports this; depression was identified as an important health issue in the community [7].


Statistics Canada data from 2001 report that 3.1% of Inuit people suffered from depression and 6.4% were at high risk of depression, a rate well below the Canadian average [8]. These statistics are contrary to the high rates of suicide among Inuit regions, which are 6-11 times the national average [9]. This raises questions as to whether depression measures used for the population are applicable in the context of the Inuit culture. Other explanations include that depression, particularly in men, may present as alcohol problems, violence, or criminal activity and therefore may not be classified as depression [10,11]. Further research into depression rates among Inuit is needed to understand this discrepancy.