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The Highest Suicide Rate in the World (nybooks.com)
216 points by akakievich 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 165 comments



When you read article, it is important to note the before state and after state. There a lot of things that happen in between.

First, you need to understand that this culture existed well before colonization, and it existed in peace. Secondly, the culture's history and knowledge, specifically on how to survive in such a harsh environment, was oral as the Inuit did not pass things on by reading and writing. This is a key point.

It's not that it's impossible to survive in the Arctic, it's that that are many requirements, and these requirements were passed on generation after generation. Much like an Astronaut has to pass tests to ensure that they can survive the remoteness of space, the same can be said here.

What happened next is that the people, who were the 'books' of knowledge were taken away, put in schools, killed, imprisoned, etc. The requirements to be able to live in this environment were no longer being met because the people responsible for the oral transmission of the requirements and knowledge, were no longer capable of doing so. The fragile ecosystem of the Inuit and the remote environment was disrupted.

I don't think people are getting the idea that their oral traditions were essentially what we would call religion. When religion was put forth a long, long time ago, it was there to shepard our civilization by providing requirements so that people can survive, and to enable them to deal with trauma, for example death, anger, etc.

If you were to rip out religion from a population thousands of years ago, burn all their books, and make them forget it, they probably would descent into chaos. This what happened here. The Inuit had their oral traditions, i.e. akin to religion in this example, removed, and the memory or books, disappeared as the information was in the people, and not in a book.

The alcoholism, violence, etc. are symptoms of our current society applied onto theirs. This problem will span generations, and the situation will only improve once they are able to get back their oral traditions, their religion, their way of structuring their life in order to survive in the remote location. Of course, this is more complicated than that because we've now injected our modern way of life into the mix. I don't know what the outcome will be, but I do think once they are able to find their oral traditions, and to remember the stories from the old, they will be better than they are now.

Just my 2 cents.


I'm not sure there is really a viable route back. A lot of the traditions and ecosystem that worked before may not be there.

I believe it's more that just the oral tradition. The small insular nature of the communities is also lost and I don't believe the traditional approach would scale to the large urban centres they find themselves in.


Unlike knowledge stored in books, oral traditions and knowledge can't be "got back to".

Once the line is broken, it is gone.


Yes and No. I think they can never go back to how it was. But having memories and remembering the old ways is a start. A point of departure if you will. From this point of departure, I think this where we will see how they will evolve their ways.

Much like how after a tragedy, people talk about it to get over it, the next talk has to be about what happened to them, so that they can move forward.

This, along with remember the ways of the old, can give them roots, and a feeling of belonging, a feeling of who they were, and a feeling that traditions can evolve and continue on.


This is a pretty good insight. I think it's the same issue affecting many other groups.


In bizarre twist, although I am in the IT world, I've had the good fortune to listen to some knowledgeable people that know far more than me about this.

In addition, I think I knew and have worked with Bonnie who is mentioned in the article. Iqaluit/Nunavut is a small place, so even by first name, I think I'm kind of sure who it is. If she is who she is, then she knows a lot about this topic and I would trust her words.


This is tangentially related, but a couple years ago a Canadian woman won the Global Teachers Prize. [1] The northernmost area of Quebec has quite a lot in common with Nunavut, being remote and only accessible by air, and struck by high rates of substance abuse and suicide. However, Quebec is so much more densely populated in the south that the total population hides this.

I suspect that the reason the Yukon and the Northwest Territories don't see the huge rate that Nunavut sees is because Whitehorse and Yellowknife (to a lesser extent) represent such a huge portion of the population, compared to Iqaluit.

1. https://www.globalteacherprize.org/winners/maggie-macdonnell


Based on my anecdotal evidence, the major factors that seems to affect regions with high suicide rates are:

- Isolation/ lack of community connection: Isolated individuals tend to have less social feedback loops, which impacts their perception of the world around them.

- Alcohol and Drug abuse: This can be a byproduct of other areas, as an attempt to help alleviate the perceived suffering, boredom, etc. In my opinion, in the long run, alcohol and drug abuse tend to exacerbate the issue.

- Lack of Vitamin D and Sun: A lack in this areas has been associated with increased bouts and feeling of depression, which can increase thoughts of suicide.


But going by the article, "suicide was rare, and among young people, almost unknown" until contact with outsiders. So I don't think it's just isolation.


Isolation on the individual level. Contact with outsiders could have led to previously close knit communities breaking down and other social ties weakening, even if there where more actual people around.


This doesn’t explain Lithuania which is not isolated, has no alcohol/drug problem, and has enough sun.


Isolated in this case isn't necessarily talking about geographic isolation, but the social isolation individuals experience. And when it comes to alcohol, I don't know enough about the country to say whether it has a "problem" or not, but it is consistently listed among the top 3 countries by alcohol consumption.


I personally think that there might be something in Baltic genetic makeup that makes us more prone to suicide.

Lack of sun exposure probably does play a role, though, because I suspect that the average adult doesn't spend enough time in the sun during the time of the year when we can produce vitamin D.


because he's missing "lack of hope for the future" which is a key component. That's usually tied to economics.


It's doubtful that suicide was rare in pre-1950s Nunavut. More likely there is a problem with non-existent records or with definition of what constitutes suicide. In particular, when hunts failed and food was scarce, both infanticide and senilicide were practiced, the latter usually in the form of assisted suicide. See "Law-Ways of the Primitive Eskimos" https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewconten...


If the commonality is that living in these higher latitude zones causes increases in suicide, what happens when/if the Earth hits +4C and the habitable zones become these very same areas? [see map linked below]

There would be obvious confounders, like the despair of knowing that humans decimated the planet's habitability.

https://mymodernmet.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/climat...


>If the commonality is that living in these higher latitude zones causes increases in suicide, what happens when/if the Earth hits +4C and the habitable zones become these very same areas?

When that happens, the deaths from first-order climate related causes (floods and droughts, extreme weather phenomena, raised temperatures, etc) would be so many, that the increase in suicides due to migration to higher latitude zones would be a drop in the bucket...


If people really believe +4C is likely in 80 years, why aren’t they out marching and demanding a move to nuclear power? It’s the only option that doesn’t decimate the poor and drastically increase the price of food, and this magnitudes more likely to be acted upon. Yet the overlap between people against nuclear power and terrified of climate change is a massive majority.


People are out demanding changes.

I'm terrified of climate change. I'm also terrified of nuclear power. I'm not really against nuclear power in theory, but I'm afraid about how we're unable to think about, plan, or prepare for longer than an election cycle. If we're heading for a collapse then a lot of abandoned nuclear power plants are going to cause a lot of damage.


Not everybody is looking at the same statistics you are, and not everyone is as hopeful about our ability to store nuclear waste safely indefinitely.

I'm pro-nuclear power, but it's foolish to act like their motivations or beliefs are less real than yours because they have a different risk assessment.


Wind and solar just can't scale to what is needed to stop climate change, and if they did scale that high, would become active in increasing climate change themselves. Never mind the complexity of keeping power on 24/7 when your predictions of wind and solar availability are off.

It isn't statistics, but cold hard math.


> it's the only option that doesn’t decimate the poor and drastically increase the price of food

This is an unsupportable assertion. Nuclear power costs far more than the alternatives (mainly Wind/Solar), none of which impoverish people nor drastically increase the price of food.


The difference is that one (nuclear) can deliver energy consistently, while the other (wind/solar) simply cannot. Wind/solar just aren’t comparable at this point. If an energy source isn’t producing energy when you need it, it isn’t an energy source.

As GP said, nuclear is the only option.


You'll have to help me out. The assertion is that all things that aren't nuclear "decimate the poor and drastically increase the price of food".

Can you suggest some reading material that would tell me how wind and solar do those things?


Wind and solar just aren't viable at the scales needed.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/10/large-scale-w...


It's going to suck when the only habitable areas on the planet are dark for a quarter of the year.


It is not the latitude that is causing the suicide rates. The at-risk populations just happen to be there. Causality does not equal causation.


Pretty sure you're the one who has it backwards, and extended periods of darkness and/or vitamin D deficiency have causal factors in suicide.


Yes, this is one of the factors at play but there are no proof that seasonal depression is the main one. All of northern countries have this issue without having such high suicide rates.

This issue is a sociocultural one. There has never been any proof that Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can increase suicide rates that much. Living up north, I can assure you that everyone is aware of SAD and is taking steps to minimize it. Omega-3, vitamin supplements, light therapy, etc.


Former Alaskan here. I wasn't shocked to find out Greenland and Nunavut which are also very high north have high suicide rates. The long dark winters can really mess with you after a while which can lead to substance abuse.


I think it is too easy to just make it about the environment. If you read the article it claims the suicide rate wasn't always this high. Something cultural got lost when they transitioned away from their nomadic lifestyle.


> I think it is too easy to just make it about the environment.

> Something cultural got lost when they transitioned away from their nomadic lifestyle.

As with many problems, the cause is likely mosaic.

I can tell you anecdotally that I would surely devolve into substance abuse and suicide were I to live in an Alaskan / Canadian environment like that. Just working from home on a permanent basis was enough to send me out to the bar on a daily basis. Similarly, when I spent time unemployed my only solace was substance. I cannot imagine being stuck in such an environment, little contact and little to do.

Some people just can't handle a certain lifestyle.

One wonders were we to leave the natives to their nomadic lifestyle if we wouldn't be seeing criticisms for any inevitable fallout and suffering that lifestyle might bring to members of the population.


Change in culture isn't enough to explain it either. Hunting and trapping culture is still strong in the north. There's not much else going on.


Anecdotal evidence: I used to live in Oregon, where it rains a majority of the year (or the skies are otherwise gray). I was super unhappy all the time and was regularly depressed. Moved to Florida where the sun is out virtually 365 days of the year. I haven't had a dark day since I got here some years ago. I'm living in a lower-class area too.


Suicide and alcohol related deaths were pretty common on my Ketchikani mom’s side of the family. I imagine it would be worse in Fairbanks, let alone Nome.

I had some friends who did summers in Alaskan canneries, they said all there was to do was drink.


There is more to it than just the weather, as others have pointed out. However, your comment reminded me of "Winter-over syndrome" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter-over_syndrome) - worth a look for those interested in the effects of long periods of cold and dark isolation on human psychology.


Wondered if Lithuania will be mentioned in the article. Yes, it is. The difference between Nanuvat and Greenland is that their populations are 10 thousands, we are almost 3 million.


I guess Lithuania has he same problem as all the Nordics, dark gloomy weather year round.

I wanted to emigrate to Sweden due to the high quality of life but the dark, drizzly, windy weather really put me off and some locals I talked to said they were really depressed by it and were either trying to emigrate or work remotely from Southern Europe.

In the Blatics it's probably worse as the economic situational is not positive for some people.


I guess Lithuania has he same problem as all the Nordics, dark gloomy weather year round.

Except the Nordic countries have a lower suicide rates than the US. The whole high rates of suicide in the Nordics is a myth.


True, however if you look in the European context, Southern countries have lower rates despite having lower standard of living. So the climate cannot be completely ruled out, it is perhaps one of the factors.


Personally if I was to guess I'd put social isolation way above climate as a factor. If you look at the statistics for Sweden for example on a county level you quickly see that most suicides are clustered in isolated counties deep in the middle of the country, far from the larger (often coastal) cities, with zero or negative population growth and without much in the way of jobs or industry.


lower standards only applies if you think about money. In every other respect, life is more pleasant in the mediterranean than in nordic countries. Source: I'm from the mediterranean and I think life in California is shit, even if I make way more money than before.


>In every other respect, life is more pleasant in the mediterranean than in nordic countries.

Only if you have money. Otherwise there wouldn't be such a mass migration of youths from the Mediterranean moving for work in the Nordics.


And opposite when approaching retirement age.


Except that doesn't show up in the data about well-being, where the nordic countries outperform the mediterranean ones.


They are wrong. Most of those surveys are designed by people with a very clear view of what life should be that doesn't reflect the values of less materialistic societies.

A good example is the corruption index published every year, when the US always comes out as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. We all know for a fact there's tons of corruption in this country, we just decided to legalize most of it. Doesn't mean the US can teach anything to any other country about corruption.


Ok, but you're asking us to trust your opinion, and your opinion on data, coming from a position of being angry about where you live. Whereas most of us choose to live somewhere that makes us happy.

But anyway, I'm sure there are great reasons to discount the corruption studies and the studies of quality of life.

I haven't seen any of them in this thread, though.


Suicide is actually correlated with lots of sunshine and high temperatures even in colder countries like the Nordics.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_effects_on_suicide_ra...

People tend to say that they get depressed by the winter, but I believe that it is similar to how people tended to say that exercise was bad for you not too long ago. Cold helps against depression in many cases, for example cold showers. If you asked people if they would be happy trading their warm showers for cold showers they would say that it would be horrible even though it likely would improve their overall happiness.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325725.php


My guess is that during the summer and spring, you see other people outdoor enjoying activities. If you are a lonely person, this can be discouraging that everyone around is having fun but you're not.

In the fall and winter, you have an excuse to stay in. Everybody else is doing the same, so you're not missing out on much.

Plus part of it is academic. For k-12 and university, you see your 'friends' and 'acquaintances' very often. During the non-academic season, you don't see people as much which can be isolating.

Plus summer and spring, has the expectation of "you're supposed to be happy". So if you're not, then this can be devastating. Winter everybody has this "we're all in this gloomy mood together".


Regardless, seasonal affective disorder is still a thing. Maybe they don't kill themselves until the spring, but that doesn't mean the lack of sunlight isn't a (delayed) cause.


We have quite nice summers actually here in Lithuania while they become quite hot recently because of climate change. Anyway, weather is not the main cause of suicides.


Summer is only one season that's warm everywhere, and then lot of people are on holiday.

The rest of the seasons are equally important for your well being and coming from southern Austria in April where I was in T-Shirt, shorts and sunglasses to Stockholm & Copenhagen where I had to wear my winter jacket and apply lip balm and hand cream to counteract the skin cracking from the wind was quite a shock.

I love visiting Scandinavia and the Baltics but as a person who enjoys the outdoors all year round, the weather there would be way to depressing for me.


I’m from Kaliningrad, which is right next to Lithuania, and it’s actually less gloomy than Santa Barbara where I currently live. Also, SB is in the middle of a desert, while Lithuania is full of beautiful forests.


I grew up in Norway. People absolutely enjoy the outdoors all year round there. They just sometimes have to put on a jacket.


> Anyway, weather is not the main cause of suicides.

What is the main reason then?


It is combination of many factors: starting from economical changes after collapse of Soviet Union and ending with cultural things.


I don't know. But if it was weather, then Finland, Sweden, and Estonia would be just as high.


Meanwhile, being from the northwest of Germany, moving to Sweden would apparently be an upgrade for me[1]. :( It really is quite grim here for a good portion of the year and I will never get used to it (I was born and raised here).

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Europe_s...


if you can swing it move to Spain. Problem solved :)


I always find the linking of climate and weather to depression strange. I grew up in a place with quite dark winters. While I know seasonal affective disorder is a thing, for me, winter is cosy, and not at all depressing.


Sun exposure triggers the release of serotonin. For many people (probably most people), a lack of sun exposure will cause depression.

Your single case does not apply to the population at large.


Yes, I feel the same way. I've lived in the Seattle area most of my life, and when I went to LA for college people would constantly talk about how much they hated rain, clouds, darkness, "cold temperatures" (which to them was pretty much anything below 70), etc. but I've always enjoyed the cold and rainy seasons far more than summer. Personally, I'd rather perpetually deal with a Seattle winter than have to live in LA with the constant heat.


For comparison, here are a few of the highest rates per 100k in the US:

98.7 - Kusilvak Census Area, AK; 75.1 - Nome Census Area, AK; 64.2 - Sioux County, ND; 58.9 - Buffalo County, SD; 49.3 - Carbon County, UT

https://vizhub.healthdata.org/subnational/usa

Extend the list and you see lots of high latitudes, low incomes, remote rural settings, and indigenous American populations (e.g. Yupik and Inupiaq in Alaska, Sioux in the Dakotas).

Alcoholism is often common in these places, although survey data do not show it affecting the groups in northern Alaska so heavily. Deaths due to chronic liver disease are not particularly high for them, either. There's a distinct history in Nunavut, though, so the story might be different.


Great link. This is the interactive graphic that should have appeared with the article. Instead of a single narrative, users can explore various scenarios as they read along. Looking at this strictly from a geographic standpoint, for instance, there's something weird going on in North Dakota between Carson County and Sioux County. It really stands out on the map. Alaska also looks quite odd.


One of the causes in the ND patch is that there is a ton of space with nothing there. The amount of time for any medical care to arrive and then reach a hospital would be extremely high.


How do you show suicide rate in that interactive graphic? By choosing "self-harm" as cause I assume?


"something weird" being the native american population, who have been getting trampled on by Americans for hundreds of years now.


It wouldn't explain why places that haven't been trampled on by Americans would have high suicide rates. South Korea and Japan both have pretty high suicide rates for example.

Also, a large chunk of the suicides are young people who didn't leave through the eras where oppression occurred. I am not sure why somebody would commit suicide because something happened to their ancestors.


>It wouldn't explain why places that haven't been trampled on by Americans would have high suicide rates. South Korea and Japan both have pretty high suicide rates for example.

I wasn't trying to say anything about anywhere else.

>Also, a large chunk of the suicides are young people who didn't leave through the eras where oppression occurred. I am not sure why somebody would commit suicide because something happened to their ancestors.

Oppression still occurring, thanks.


How is oppression still occurring?


Not sure why this is being downvoted? Clearly these people have no idea about the Plains Wars, Custer's Last Stand and Wounded Knee. They have absolutely been trampled on and worse (murdered).


Wounded Knee happened 130 years ago, so in order to explain today's problems with it you would have to know the rate at which historical impacts decayed through time.


Its being downvoted because its childish simplistic view of things. I grew up in Grant county, literally west of Sioux county. There are a lot of reasons for the high suicide rate in Sioux county, historical facts like Custer aside, unless you've lived in this part of the country, you really have no idea what its like there. Did westerners do a number on the Nakota/Dakota/Lakota/Sioux/Mandan/etc..? Duh, but thats not really why kids are killing themselves today. Hell even in the surrounding counties suicide is pretty common for the same reasons as in the reservation. There is no opportunity, and depression is pretty common.

Side note, I have family in Sioux county as well. I'll be blunt and say, if you've only grew up on the coasts, kindly butt the fuck out of why the suicide is high. I could name 10 people in and out of Sioux county I know that ate a bullet, if all you're going to do is use this for internet points piss off.


I know it's difficult to stay even about something so personal and intense, but please don't break the site guidelines like that, even when feelings are high. It only makes things worse, as other people then feel entitled to lash back more strongly.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I'm going to hold my tongue but I'd love to hear you say that to my face. You are not the only one affected by suicide, I don't care if you live in bumfuck or the East Coast. You know nothing about how suicide has impacted me personally. I'm making an observation about historical events which have led to the lack of opportunity.


I'm sure you also have good reason to feel personally intense about this topic. But please follow the site guidelines when posting here, especially on topics where feelings are understandably strong. Note the first one listed under "Comments": Be kind.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


This is not the right way to go about it. His point is sound, no matter your personal experinces. The midwest is a distinct culture alien to the majority of americans. I routinely see the issues we face minimized, and suicide is where i draw the fucking line.


Alcoholism is always rampant when a population is first introduced to the drug.

Over centuries, evolution acts to produce a population less prone to it, since people who drink themselves to death don't tend to reproduce.

The population that has had access to alcohol for the longest (8000 years, according to a guess I saw somewhere) is the Chinese, where the "asian red flush" gene has developed as a protection against alcoholism.


Well, I'm confused. Something seems off.

Evolutionary pressures / adaptations over 8000 years would just as likely make a population less likely to suffer adverse effects from, for example, alcohol. (see sickle cell tradeoffs in malaria-risky areas). This genetic syndrome you reference makes damage from alcohol 4x more likely over time.

We'd expect long-time drinking societies to have higher alcohol tolerance to better avoid adverse effects of drinking.


To me, an adaptation that makes you avoid something damaging is a great way to make a population less likely to suffer adverse effects from it.

That said, the surviving populations probably also have a higher alcohol tolerance than their sober ancestors. That seems hard to measure though.


> Over centuries, evolution acts to produce a population less prone to it

Is this a supposition? Or is there any evidence for this effect being real and/or it being significant over such evolutionarily short timescales?


All evolution ultimately is, is the result of factors favorable to reproduction staying the gene pool, since those with them quite tautologically tend to reproduce more, while factors unfavorable to reproduction get culled vice versa.

For a recent example of evolution on a practically real time scale see this [1]. Scientists released millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild. The genetically engineered mosquitoes were all male and engineered to produce infertile offspring. However, rare abnormalities allowed some mosquitoes to end up producing fertile offspring. The entire target population (in the wild) then began to adopt these characteristics and ended up rebounding from near extermination to near pre-release numbers.

That is evolution in fast forward due to a rapid reproduction rate, but even on a generational level this would have been an extremely rapid evolutionary adaptation.

And the same applies to humans. A seemingly ever larger number of things have major genetic factors -- alcoholism being one we've known about for quite some time. Alcoholics are less likely to live to successfully reproduce, and even when producing may produce defective offspring as a result of their alcoholism. So it creates an evolutionary imperative against susceptibility to alcoholism.

[1] - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49660-6


The actual difference in susceptibility to alcoholism is big evidence. And the idea that alcoholism might make you have 3% less kids per generation or whatever small difference would suffice when multiplied over a few centuries is very plausible.


Evolution can occur quickly! See e.g. the Peppered Moth.


True, but it helps that moths can lay thousands of eggs one or more times a year. Evolution can be quick but people reproduce very slowly.


Indigenous Americans made alcoholic fermented beverages

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_and_Native_Americans#P...


Sure, but I think it was expensive and complicated enough with their technology that becoming an alcoholic was very hard, compared to the modern world with unlimited supply of cheap bottles of hard liquor.


I agree, was curious so did some digging and found the results interesting.

In addition to lower concentration, I'd imagine the mollusk and tobacco wine wouldn't have been as palatable as contemporaneous whiskey, but I'm not a fan of seafood in general so YMMV. Sounds like indigenous peoples in temperate climates tended to only use alcoholic beverages ceremonially rather than multiple-times-daily of colonists.


I don't believe this is the case, do you have any sources to back it up?


I've seen it discussed several times, and believe it's at least a respected hypothesis. To what extent it's "established science" I don't know.

I don't have any source links handy. Do you have any sources for your disbelief? :)


It's the onus of the one making the claim to back it up. My 30 second google search didn't turn up much one way or the other so I can't say for sure. I was curious if you had read any articles studies to make you believe that, or whether it was just your personal hypothesis. To me, it doesn't seem like that would be true, but I have nothing to back that up


> It's the onus of the one making the claim to back it up

Agreed. I don't have the time/energy to look up any sources, and I support anyone being skeptical about exotic claims made by anonymous forum posters :)


You are likely to find the highest suicide rates in less-populated areas because the average of fewer numbers tends to have a greater variance than the average of more numbers. The suicide rate could be the same everywhere and you would still be guaranteed to find the most suicides in rural counties.


If "small numbers" were the dominant effect, we'd expect to see it move around. This year the highest would be somewhere in the Dakotas, next year in NW Oklahoma, etc. If the rankings are stable over time it must be something else.


From a statistical standpoint, it's logical that the most extreme numbers come from the lowest populations. So if the lowest rates are also in remote rural areas, this says more about statistics than anything else.


I'm not sure which of these two points you're trying to make:

1) These specific counties could be flukes because of their small population.

We can account for that by making multiple observations--i.e. look at multiple years of data--and seeing if the counties change rank. The visualization has yearly data for 1980-2014, and the specified counties are consistently high compared to the national average

https://vizhub.healthdata.org/subnational/usa

2) The 'rural' component of these counties isn't necessarily a factor, since the counties with lowest rates may be rural as well.

A bit of searching turns up a clear correlation between population density and suicide:

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/How-population-density-a...


I was trying to make point 1, but you definitely showed this is not the case.

That last graph is a really nice one, as it shows more variance on low populations, but on average still way higher than on high populations.

Thanks for the clarification! :)


>Extend the list and you see lots of high latitudes, low incomes, remote rural settings, and indigenous American populations

Gloomy weather, little opportunity for future economic advancement exacerbated by a government hundreds of miles away made up of people nothing like you making up rules for you that make life harder (rural area generally make money on resource extraction and western government are regulating that more tightly for climate reasons) and it's been this way for generations.

This isn't quite shocked pikachu territory but it should come as no surprise people living like this kill themselves more than the baseline.


In case any one doesn't know: Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre Trudeau, oversaw these residential schools, the last of which were only dismantled in the 90s under a different government.

This is a dark chapter in the history of Canada.


Your first statement is highly misleading, the residential schools started in the 1800s and peaked in 1931. They were also primarily run by religious organizations. The abuse and human experimentation on the childern also predate Trudeau by decades. Yes the federal government had a role in oversight, but to pin the residential schools so completely on Pierre Trudeau is downright disingenuous and masks the complicity of many many other people.

But it was indeed a dark chapter in the history of Canada. For those of you curious about the residential schools a basic introduction can be found at: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residentia...


Pierre Trudeau was PM from 1968 to 1984 (with a brief interruption by Joe Clark's PCs)[1]. Residential schools were taken over by the Department of Indian Affairs in 1969 and by 1986 were eliminated or turned over to the local bands[2].

A better characterization is that Pierre Trudeau oversaw the dismantling of the residential schools.

Given that this is an election year in Canada, Justin Trudeau is a candidate and that this is a very deceptive portrayal of the situation, I'm going to assume this is intentional and report.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Trudeau [2] https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residentia...


Mainly driven by alcoholism, and it is very well known:

> Alcohol and drug use among Inuit increased significantly between 1992 and 2004, particularly among young adults. Alcohol users consumed significantly more alcohol per drinking episode than other Canadians in both time periods. Considerable cannabis use was widespread. In 2004, no significant differences in frequencies of heavy drinking episodes were observed by gender, with 60% of drug users consuming alcohol on a regular basis.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696457/

and the link between alcoholism and suicide is well documented:

> Various classical studies found an excess of suicide among alcoholics [73–80]. Beck and Steer [81] and Beck et al. [82] found that alcoholism was the strongest single predictor of subsequent completed suicide in a sample of attempted suicides.

> In 1997, Harris and Barraclough, in their unusually comprehensive meta-analysis analyzed 32 papers related to alcohol dependence and abuse, comprising a population of over 45,000 individuals [34]. They found that combining the studies gave a suicide risk almost six times that expected but with variation of 1–60 times. Specifically, they found that the suicide risk for females was very much greater than for males, about 20 times that expected compared with four for males. Suicide risk among alcohol-dependent individuals has been estimated to be 7% (comparable with 6% for mood disorders; [83]). Of 40,000 Norwegian conscripts followed prospectively over 40 years, the probability of suicide was 4.76% (relative risk +6.9) among those classified as alcohol abusers compared with 0.63 for non-drinkers [84]. Similar finding have been made worldwide [85]. Murphy et al. studied 50 suicides and found that an alcohol use disorder was the primary diagnosis in 23% and a co-occurring diagnosis in 37% [86]. Conwell et al. performed a study in New York City and reported that alcohol misuse was present in the history of 56% of individuals who completed suicide [43].

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872355/

EDIT: even in Japan where there is a significant correlation between alcoholism and suicide rates (in Japanese men at least): https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5865438_Alcohol_con...


Given the violence, dispossession, and virulent racism indigenous people are and we’re forced to bear, isn’t the alcoholism another symptom, not the cause?


Similar groups in various other arctic locations throughout the globe have abuse and suicide rates that are only marginally lower. Further the greatest number of victims are youth.

Living like it's the 1700s only works if you aren't aware that the rest of the world exists. Put youth in very remote locations and teach them that maintaining a lost culture is their most important reason for existing -- but they're aware of a wide world that will embrace them [^1] yet they're told that it reviles them -- and it has to be pretty self-defeating. Add horrendous weather most of the year, harsh conditions, and it just isn't conducive to happiness.

^1 - Aboriginal racism comes up a lot, and rightly so. But it's often a stereotype of reserves and remote communities (one very sadly backed by data -- if you live near a reserve, property crime is likely significantly higher than if you didn't), and not about a peoples. Canada is a very multicultural society and any of these people would be just another shade in Canada, but because of the clutching to the "old ways", much as if I was wearing a Kilt and trying to raise sheep, it's tough to do and these youth bear the burden of their ancestors more than most of us do.


Put youth in very remote locations and teach them that maintaining a lost culture is their most important reason for existing

It must be hard to have that put on you. The outside people who express the most interest in your welfare seem bent on curating you like an artifact. Meanwhile, there's very little economy if you want to stay, and if you go, you'll be going into a partly alien culture where you know you will encounter bias.

Speaking about America rather than Canada, I think to most Americans the idea of ethnic bias against Native Americans seems like "just" a matter of the quaint and damaging stereotypes we carry, but near reservations it takes a similar form to racism against African-Americans: fear and resentment of the socioeconomic issues in the community, fear and resentment of the historical culpability of white people, an implicit assumption that something must be inferior about them because white people operating under the same historical burden would have had it all straightened out by now. If I were a young person on a reservation judging white people by the ones I encountered nearby, I think it would make leaving into a predominately white world a scary prospect.


> Living like it's the 1700s only works if you aren't aware that the rest of the world exists. Put youth in very remote locations and teach them that maintaining a lost culture is their most important reason for existing -- but they're aware of a wide world that will embrace them [^1] yet they're told that it reviles them -- and it has to be pretty self-defeating. Add horrendous weather most of the year, harsh conditions, and it just isn't conducive to happiness.

You’re describing the outcome of a centuries long, at many points explicitly genocidal, settler-colonialist project and then hand-washing it away as “clinging to the old ways.” These circumstances are literally what was designed for indigenous people in Canada by those who have profited from the dispossession, not those of their choosing. I don’t think indigenous people are backward or inherently inferior. I think Canada lies about its own history and crimes against these people, and then projects its own blame upon them.


"I don’t think indigenous people are backward or inherently inferior."

Weird that you drop this bizarre and incredibly offensive statement.

Countless indigenous people are simply Canadians. They live in cities, have jobs, and are enjoying lives as normal Canadians. Many Canadians have often significant aboriginal ancestry in their blood. People just living as a mixed bag of peoples in one of the richer countries on the Earth, enjoying life.

What I'm talking about are very remote settlements and reservations. This is situational, not about genetics. The situation of reservations and those far flung settlements just isn't conducive to happiness. No amount of government spending will change that.


>No amount of government spending will change that.

Why not buy them bus tickets to Ontario? There's some value in preserving cultures as a matter of record, but that's not worth unnecessary suffering to make it happen.


> Why not buy them bus tickets to Ontario?

There are no roads to any of the 25 towns in Nunavut.


You do not deserve to be downvoted. People live in remote villages for a variety of reasons. Nobody "puts" them there any more than I "put" my son in the town I live in.

GP may have had a better intention with their comment, but the way it was worded is extremely ignorant of what it's actually like to be born into a remote community that has existed for thousands of years.


Yes, in some circumstances, they were put there -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Arctic_relocation

Reserves did not exist for 1000s of years. The indigenous were nomads, and now are more grounded in territory.


From the comment you seek to demote:

>The outside people who express the most interest in your welfare seem bent on curating you like an artifact.

I think you might have let your bias alter your reception of their comment.


That is certainly up for discussion and debate. But once you get into alcoholism, having a greater suicide rate than average is a given.


Dr. Gabor Maté talks a lot about trauma and how it can get "preserved" over generations (he is himself a survivor of the Holocaust).


Don't know why you got downvoted. Dr. Maté's work is really interesting.


Does alcoholism drive suicides, do suicides drive alcoholism, or do other things drive both suicide and alcoholism (or, perhaps more likely, all of the above)?


You could argue that people who end up trapped with alcoholism were probably having problems in the first place and used alcohol as a form of escapism. It's a generalization, but there are probably hidden factors behind alcoholism and suicide.


Alcohol loosens your inhibitions and pushes you deeper into the abyss. While you wouldnt have killed yourself sober, the answer might look different after a few bottles. Its the same reason firearms have an influence on the suicide rate. Pulling a trigger is just a lot less of a hurdle then most other methods.


This makes me wonder what the actual rate of suicides are performed under influence compared to completely sober. I have a feeling the latter is extremely rare.


The percentage of suicides performed under the influence seems to be about 30%[0], so a minority of suicides, but still a sizeable number.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/19/health/19suicide.html


I dont think that is the case either. Alcohol has an influence but like with handguns, there are plenty who manage without both.


Yes it seems much more likely that people are using alcohol as a form of self medication.


Could there be a cultural factor, too? At least historically, in very rough habitats, you really wanted to be useful for your community, not a burden. Many native tribes in eg. Alaska and Canada even had a range of customs around suicide or leaving behind or even killing people of old age and poor condition, usually based on the wish or consent of the victim.

Maybe such attitudes combined with bleak social and economic prospects and general feelings of purposelessness and uselessness could well contribute to the phenomenon?


Agree. IMHO, I think it's very important here to examine historical and other-cultural attitudes toward euthanasia and it's analogues. eg., ritual suicide in feudal Japan. These attitudes seem likely to echo forward from their common-practice eras ...


The more our lives are guided by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, the more we will find life to be empty and meaningless, and the more suicides there will be.Places with the highest "individual freedom" to pursue all sorts of physical pleasures, especially by changing laws to make unlawful immorality lawful, are the ones with the highest suicide rates.


The smaller the sample the more likely you'll see the outlier rate, too high or too low.

Yours truly, Captain Obvious.


For those interested in the issue, this documentary gives voice to some members of the community.

https://www.nfb.ca/film/angry_inuk/


From my understanding, suicide rates among indigenous Australians are similarly high, particularly in remote communities. I suspect many of the same factors are at play.


> Nunavut’s rate is 100 per 100,000, ten times higher than the rest of Canada and seven times higher than the US.

Ok, that's bad.

But we can connect that to the US: white males with no college, aged 45-54, have a suicide rate of 38.8 and a poisoning (overdose) rate of 58.0[0]. Put those together and that's pushing 100 per 100,000. That's enough to start asking some cultural questions.

However, "During 1999–2003, the suicide rate among Nunavut males aged 15 to 19 was estimated to exceed 800 per 100,000 population, compared to around 14 for the general Canadian male population in that age group."[1]

800 per 100,000? This statistic is staggering for a couple of reasons: its magnitude and the age range.

The graphs in [3] show just how young and male the suicides among the Inuit are. It's no surprise that it's primarily male, because it almost always is, but it is surprising to see an 8:1 ratio and that it's affecting the youth so heavily. For comparison, in the United States the 15-24 age range is near the bottom of the suicide statistics[4].

These are boys born in the 1980's. As bad as the crimes against the Inuits may have been in the 1950's it's a strange territory to wander into where an effect of an atrocity shows up 50 years late in a population that wasn't alive yet. From wikipedia[2]: "...to about 170 in 2002. Some of the reasons given include adverse childhood experiences involving emotional neglect and abuse, family violence and substance abuse, as well as social inequalities brought on by government intervention." (referencing [3]) I can see the argument the author is making here but I don't have the time to address it.

The article is giving the "white guilt" narrative and for whatever reason is dancing around the massive gender disparity in suicide rates. When I see articles like this I wonder how much the author cares about suicide and how much they see it as a platform to write about anti-colonialism.

[0] - Table 1 https://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/15078 [1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_Canada [2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_Canada#Among_the_In... [3] - https://www.iwgia.org/images/publications//IA_4_07.pdf#page=... [4] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Crude_US_suicide_rate_by_...


interesting.


The history of alcoholism and suicide in Alaska goes back to the time of first contact with outsiders. When westerners first contacted Alaska Native tribes, those "explorers" tended to be people who were after valuable furs, and missionaries. These people were usually a mix of Russians from the west and Americans from the south.

The outsiders brought with them diseases like tuberculosis and influenza, and these diseases were devastating. In many villages, up to 70% of the population died in the span of a few generations. It's hard to imagine how hard this would be to live through. I live in a town of 10,000 and I imagine waking up at some point to only have 3,000 people around, not because people move but because all of those people we knew were dead.

That wasn't all, though. Almost all of the missionaries blamed the survivors for what happened. They said their people died because they worshipped the devil. They took the surviving children away, telling parents they weren't fit to raise their own children. They banned the use of Native languages, and all aspects of Native culture such as dancing, regalia, ceremonies, and more. All of this has led to despair and a disconnect with a rich culture that existed for ~10,000 years before this.

Life for Native people before contact was not perfect. But this is the root of alcoholism and suicide in Alaska, and in many areas with indigenous populations around the world. If you're interested in learning more about this history, I recommend Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being by Harold Napoleon [0], and Chills and Fever: Health and Disease in the Early History of Alaska by Robert Fortuine [1].

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Yuuyaraq-Human-Being-Harold-Napoleon/...

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Chills-Fever-Health-Disease-History/d...


What you're recounting seems (from the article) to be the Canadian government's side of the story. The 12th paragraph of the article begins the Inuit's description of what happened.

> Most Inuit look back very differently on this period. Their version begins shortly after World War II, when the US and Canada jointly established a line of radar stations across the Arctic in order to spy on the Soviets and monitor the skies for potential attacks via the North Pole. The Canadian government, keen to prevent the US from claiming sovereignty over this potentially mineral- and natural gas–rich area, hastily established towns and forced the Inuit to settle in them. Older Inuit told me they remember armed police officers arriving at their camps unannounced and ordering everyone to leave. Sled dogs—even healthy ones—were slaughtered before their owners’ eyes.

> The government concedes that thousands of Inuit children, some as young as five, were sent to boarding, or “residential,” schools, where they were cut off from their families, given Christian names and ID numbers, punished for speaking their native Inuktitut language, required to wear Western clothes, and taught a Canadian curriculum that had no relevance to the world they’d been born into. Many were also beaten and raped by their teachers. Some went to the schools willingly, but many reluctant parents, informed that if they didn’t send their children off, they’d be denied government welfare benefits or credit from fur traders, surrendered them in tears.

> Memories of these horrors haunt the lives of older Inuit today. [...]


Canada's FNMI (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) relations have been really screwed up for a long time, and the current Federal government has not improved things by trying to steamroll a pipeline through traditional lands in BC (despite talking a big game about reconciliation during their election campaign). Meanwhile the newly-elected conservative provincial government in Ontario immediately backed away from plans to include content about residential schools in the public school curriculum, which was to be written in collaboration with people who actually lived through it, see: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-education-tru...

Anyway, if you're interested in more about what FNMI life is like in Canada, the APTN First Contact show is a pretty great place to start:

https://aptn.ca/firstcontact/video/season-1/


> Almost all of the missionaries blamed the survivors for what happened. They said their people died because they worshipped the devil. They took the surviving children away, telling parents they weren't fit to raise their own children. They banned the use of Native languages, and all aspects of Native culture such as dancing, regalia, ceremonies, and more. All of this has led to despair and a disconnect with a rich culture that existed for ~10,000 years before this.

Do you have any citations for this? I have read a lot of missionary stories, and have friends and family who have been or are missionaries themselves, and have never heard of anything so heinous. That's exactly the opposite of what missionaries are supposed to be; it sounds more like a particularly brutal form of western imperialism and exploitation than anything else.


It's not hard to find these accounts.

Here's the top link I found when googling 'first nations canada banned language': https://www.facinghistory.org/stolen-lives-indigenous-people...

Here's another source from The Guardian (not my favorite paper, but generally publishes true things): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/02/canada-indigen... - "Children inducted into residential schools were forbidden from speaking their native languages and subjected to routine physical abuse, inadequate nutrition and neglect. Sexual abuse was common, according to the survivors who testified at commission hearings throughout the country."

Edit: The history of missionaries is inextricably linked with the history of Western imperialism and exploitation. These accounts are by no means limited to the Canada or even the Americas - there are many accounts of the brutal treatment of indigenous people in Africa, Australia and Oceania committed by missionaries.


I mean... to be fair, when you read a missionary story, you're reading the missionary's own account of how things went down. Not saying it's always this bad, but you're unlikely to see a lot of self-criticism if you don't have the account from the other side of those interactions.

I'm not really sure about Alaska in particular, but the Catholic Church for example was definitely complicit in the attempted cultural genocide undertaking by the Canadian government against indigenous peoples (and resists issuing a formal apology for that role, even to this day: https://globalnews.ca/news/4110276/canada-residential-school...).


> But this is the root of alcoholism and suicide in Alaska

More accurately, conditions today ripe for alcoholism and suicide may be borne out events following contact. There's similar issues in Canada, Siberia.


Is the problem of alcoholism worse in Siberia than it is in the rest of Russia, where it is already pretty bad?


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21070110.


[flagged]


> That’s the lazy “blame the violent colonialists” approach though.

Crazy to think that hundreds of years of violence and extraction had nothing to do with this, and it's just due to cultural faults.

There's no world in which their legacy of oppression wouldn't affect their present day material conditions.

> Modern technology coming around and wiping out the need for most of your tribe to hunt and gather is going to have a big impact on cultures like that.

Culture isn't static, it evolves over time. It's not just "their time to die out," or whatever the subtext of a statement like this is.


It's certainly not impossible that we've blinded ourselves to other problems by being so quick to blame all of their woes on colonialism however. The real world is rarely so simple. I find it a bit condescending when we try to pin all of the blame on western influence in the past, when these people are quite capable of fucking up their own lives without your help thank you very much. The idea that the old hunter-gatherer lifestyle was idyllic and perfectly in harmony with nature is also a myth.


> I find it a bit condescending

Cool.

> when we try to pin all of the blame on western influence in the past, when these people are quite capable of fucking up their own lives without your help thank you very much.

Guess we'll never know because of all the rape and pillage.

I'll never understand how people come to so deeply fetishize the subjective that they're entirely willing to cast off the shackles of the objective.


How is it not western supremacist thinking? This is simply the other side of the "all of the advances of the modern world are the result of superior western society", all of the problems of the world are the result of superior western society.


To be brutally honest, I find it more condescending when people try to downplay the brutality and devastation colonialism enacted on the various native populations while trying to claim it was the victims of colonialism that were truly at fault.

Generally speaking, wiping out large amounts of any population whether intentional or not is probably going to have negative multigenerational effects.


The amazing book 1491 calls this Holmbergs mistake: that the indigenous people lined in a static world and didn't have the agency to make their own mistakes.


> Crazy to think that hundreds of years of violence and extraction had nothing to do with this, and it's just due to cultural faults.

It's extremely easy to see other groups of people who suffered the same thing, and have extremely low suicide rates. At which point you could create the same post-hoc explanation for the opposite outcome, about how hundreds of years of violence created very tough and mentally strong people.


> which point you could create the same post-hoc explanation for the opposite outcome, about how hundreds of years of violence created very tough and mentally strong people.

This is pure ideology: we were actually helping them when we were chopping their children's hands off in the congo when they didn't produce enough.


I don't understand what you're saying. Who is saying anyone helped anyone else when children's hands were chopped off in the Congo?


I quoted you.


You quoted me, then made a very insincere and uncharitable implication of what I said.

I don't have any ideology, I was just pointing out how post-hoc explanations always fit the data. But that you could take other examples and come to opposite conclusions.


> I don't have any ideology

Yes, you do. Regardless of if you want to or not, you have an ideology.


Cultural whiplash takes many forms. This kind of dualist thinking minimises one take to promote another. Shouldn't we be able to consider two (Or more) things to have merit at the same time?

In the words of Bender, you want me to do two things??


>Perhaps it’s because so much culture was surrounded around food gathering? Modern technology coming around and wiping out the need for most of your tribe to hunt and gather is going to have a big impact on cultures like that.

I think this is actually an interesting point. One I hadn't considered before. I doubt it really explains it, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was a contributing factor.


Anecdotally, I've heard Scandinavia has a similarly high rate, for the same reason.


> Anecdotally, I've heard Scandinavia has a similarly high rate, for the same reason.

Why are you posting your anecdotes like this? You have access to the internet after all:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_r...

For example, on that list the US rates _worse_ than Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and are about the same as Finland.


The US is a large, heterogeneous nation and comparisons with small homogenous nations are misleading.


In what particular way is it misleading in this case, and in which direction?


An interesting thing is in the US, native-americans and white population has 2-3x the suicide rate as blacks, hispanics and asians. https://www.sprc.org/racial-ethnic-disparities


TBH, I fired that off without fully getting the context. It's true, but not wholly relevant.


"Nunavut’s [suicide] rate is 100 per 100,000, ten times higher than the rest of Canada and seven times higher than the US. When I visited Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, in July, virtually every Inuit I met had lost at least one relative to suicide, and some recounted as many as five or six family suicides, plus those of friends, coworkers, and other acquaintances."

So one in 1,000 kills himself and nearly everyone has a relative that did it? Pretty big families over there.


Yes. Let's roughly estimate the probabilities here. We know that 1 in 1000 people suicide every year. Say the average life expectancy is 71 years [1], so a person living a community of 1000 people will roughly see 71 people suicide across their life.

Say, a person has roughly 32 relatives (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews). It's fairly easy to get to 32.

Then the probability of at least one relative committing suicide is 1-(1-71/1000)^32 = 91%. Which is indeed "virtually every Inuit". With 50 relatives it is 97%.

[1] https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/65674nunavut_lowest_li...


I think that’s 100 per 100,000 per year.


That's right. I hate it when people mess up the units like that. When I read that "X's GDP is $Y billion" with no mention of "year" or "annual" I am almost as annoyed as when journalists can't tell the difference between energy and power.


You're technically right, but I don't think I've ever seen GDP quoted as something other than per year, so there's no real ambiguity. The bigger problem is comparing GDP (a flow) to quantities that are stocks (total debt, market cap of X, etc.)


A slightly related problem is GDP vs GDP per capita, which during periods of high immigration or of otherwise rapid population growth can paint quite different pictures.




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