The reasons are complex, of course, but a new study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal concludes the quality and availability of foods plays a major role in the mental health of Indigenous people living off-reserve in the country, a finding that appears to confirm a study carried out in Atlantic Canada in 2017.
Looking at which financial factors affect psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among Indigenous peoples living off-reserve, the researchers analysed a 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey originally filed with Statistics Canada in 2012 to which 14,000 Indigenous adults responded,.
According to Mohammad Hajizadeh, one of the study’s authors, the researchers found that uncertainty over having a regular, affordable source of nutritious food seemed to be a major factor explaining the higher rates of mental health problems among low-income Indigenous peoples, with 28 per cent of off-reserve Indigenous households reporting some form of it in the 2012 survey.
Hajizadeh, an assistant professor in the School of Health Administration at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says he hopes the findings will help shape future government policy.
“Let’s say if you hypothetically cannot have a policy that affects income, but at least you have a policy that tries to affect the food insecurity itself,” he told CBC News.
“Based on our results, addressing insecurity among low-income Indigenous peoples living off-reserve may potentially reduce a substantial proportion of the observed income-related inequalities in mental health outcomes,” the study says.
The survey did not collect information from First Nations people in institutions such as prisons and hospitals, shelters and groups.
About 600,000 Indigenous adults live off-reserve in Canada.
With files from CBC, Government of Canada