During Healing Our Spirit Worldwide (HOSW), Dr. Krista Stelkia, who is Syilx/Tlingit from Osoyoos Indian Band and an Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University, presented findings from a report that shows mental health interventions that are grounded in Indigenous culture lead to improved mental health outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Canada.
The Indigenous-led report was published by Dr. Stelkia; Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Chief Medical Officer, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA); Dr. Evan Adams. Deputy Chief Medical Officer, FNHA and Simon Graham, Department of Infectious Diseases, Melbourne Medical School.
The mental health trends among Indigenous peoples in Canada are alarming. First Nations, Métis and Inuit have significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide compared with non-Indigenous people. As noted by Dr. Stelkia, Canada's colonial history plays a central role in understanding these disproportionate rates. Residential school survivors, for example, faced isolation from family, physical and verbal abuse, and loss of cultural identity that have left deep emotional scars that persist today.
The path to healing
In a bid to close the gap in mental health outcomes, a systematic review was conducted to identify and assess Indigenous-designed mental health interventions.
A key theme that emerged from the review was the effectiveness of culturally grounded interventions. Participants engaged in activities that fostered a connection to the land, cultural traditions and community. Programs included Indigenous retreats, camps, ceremonies, discussion circles, language ceremonies and mentorship from Elders.
The benefits were reflected in quantitative outcomes, with decreased depression scores, reduced hopelessness scores, and increased cultural connection. Dr. Stelkia emphasized the remark of one participant, “I used to be ashamed of being Native, and now I'm not."
The path to improved mental health outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Canada is long but, as we continue to move forward, this report shows the important role Indigenous-led mental health interventions can play in the healing journey.