Suicide in GreenlandBetween 1970 and 1980, the suicide rate in Greenland was seven times higher than that of the United States. The high incidences of suicide in Greenland stemmed from the devaluing of local Inuit culture which occurred when Denmark pushed to modernize the island. Due to a lack of adequate resources, improvements have been slow. However, as mental health has become destigmatized, various NGOs and government programs have appeared over the last decade with promising solutions to address suicide in Greenland.

Suicide in Greenland Today

In 2016, the global average annual suicide rate was 16 persons per 100,000. In Greenland, the annual suicide rate was 82 persons per 100,000.

Suicide is not evenly distributed across Greenland’s population. Teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk of suicide. According to the Nordic Centre of Welfare and Social Issues, the prevalence of suicide in Greenland is three times higher among 20 to 24-year-olds than 25 to 65-year-olds.  Additionally, 23% of teenagers and young adults reported that they have self-harmed.

Recognizing Risk Factors

Due to the rapid modernization of the 1970s and 1980s, many people emigrated to the cities and larger settlements for economic and educational mobility. However, once there, they needed to assimilate to appear more Danish. The loss of identity that followed saw communities turn to alcohol, which in turn led to child abuse and neglect — two major risk factors for suicide. This erosion of family structure made it hard for individuals to cope with emotional and psychological hardships.

Combating Suicide in Greenland

Over the last couple of decades, the government and several NGOs created programs to combat this endemic.

  • SAAFIK – Established in 2011, this nation-wide counseling center extends medical, psychological, social and legal support to child victims of sexual abuse.
  • Break the Silence, End the Violence – In 2014, The Ministry of Family, Gender Equality and Social Affairs launched a three-year campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence. To this end, the Ministry established a web page about violence and information campaigns.
  • SAPIIK – This peer mentoring program is focused on reducing the number of children who drop out of school. Through social activities and outings, SAPIIK focuses on improving a child’s intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.
  • School Fairy System – This program places a social worker, known as a School Fairy, in schools to help students who need social support. The School Fairy engages students through conversation and activities. The School Fairy also reports concerns and observations to the school when he or she deems that special interventions are required.
  • TIMI ASIMI –  Founded in 2011, this is an outdoor-based intervention program geared toward at-risk teens and young adults, ages 13 to 21. Throughout the course of three months, participants engage in educational courses, community service, academic counseling and physical activities.
  • Project CREATes – Over the course of two years, this project utilized storytelling as an effective way of eliciting personal experiences related to both suicide and resilience. These workshops were safe spaces for the arctic’s youth to come together and share their experiences with suicide and mental health. Facilitators worked with youth to help them to write, audio record, photograph or film their own stories as a way of healing. Though Project CREATeS ended in 2019, it was just one part of a series of programs created by the Arctic Council to combat suicide in the arctic. It was succeeded by Local2Global, another suicide prevention program focused on fostering community and creating digital projects for storytelling.

Greenland has come a long way since the 1980s. People are now able to talk about suicide and get help for mental issues. With more initiatives and resources, suicide in Greenland can decrease to match the global average or even undercut it.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Hunger is a broad topic that touches on various aspects encompassing more than the physical lack of energy. According to Bread for the World, a Christian non-profit organization that aims to end hunger abroad and nationally, chronic hunger exists due to the lack of access and availability of resources to obtain it. In acknowledging this, there is no question that this leads to food insecurity and it is unspeakable that more than 800 million people in the world are suffering from chronic hunger. Two studies done focused specifically on the prevalence of child hunger in Greenland, which has brought to light the problem of hunger in the world’s largest island.

A national report on the food policy of Greenland was published by the Greenland Home Rule Government in 2004. This brought awareness to the prevalence of food insecurity that existed among Greenlandic children. From this report, it was found that 11 percent of children in the ages 11 to 16 reported “often hungry” or “always hungry” when they were going to school or going to bed. This hunger in Greenland, which exists among children especially, sheds light on the performance deficiencies regards to health, developmental, and academic performance. These performance deficiencies may then be associated with behavioural and psychosocial problems that continue to manifest into adulthood.

In 2010, a study was organized based on the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children where 2,254 Greenlandic students were surveyed, of which 40 percent were students in grades five to ten. In the study, the survey analyzed the occurrences of high percentages of child hunger existing in their homes. The results showed that food insecurity was related with neglect as the parents dealt with economic discrepancies and were often correlated with single-families, those living on welfare, immigrants, low educational levels and so on.

It is a beneficial first step for Greenland’s government to bring this grand concern to light. Solutions must then be made to assist these young children to receive the adequate nutrition required at such a blooming age. Children who live in poverty with low-income families, however they may be structured, need more intensive guidance from government policies and programs. Perhaps a solution to the hunger in Greenland would be to propose food drives, free school lunches, and adequate shelters as secondary arrangements to supplement the issues at home.

– Nicole Suárez

Photo: Flickr