Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression among Aboriginal peoples in Canada

As part of a mental health series produced by the National Collaborating Centre on Aboriginal Health (NCCAH), authors Sherry Bellamy and Cindy Hardy explore post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression among Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

The first paper entitled, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Aboriginal People in Canada: Review of Risk Factors, the Current State of Knowledge and Directions for Further Research, indicates that Aboriginal people in Canada are more likely than non-Aboriginal people to experience traumatic events in their lifetimes including historical, collective and individual trauma. Demographic, individual and environmental factors, such as being female, stressful living conditions, poverty and violence, all contribute to increased risk for developing PTSD among Aboriginal populations. In addition to the review of potential risk factors, the paper overviews the current knowledge, prevalence, health impacts, resilience and treatment options of PTSD within an Aboriginal context. Finally, resources for Aboriginal peoples seeking help for and/or information about PTSD is listed at the end of the report.

The second paper, Anxiety Disorders and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: The Current State of Knowledge and Directions for Future Research, reviews the limited but relevant literature on anxiety and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The paper touches upon a diversity of subjects related to anxiety including:

  • the prevalence and multiple risk factors for the development of anxiety disorders amongst Aboriginal children, youth and Aboriginal people living in urban centres;
  • Indigenous and Western models of mental health wellness;
  • associations between anxiety and adult outcomes such as alcohol use and depression;
  • links between physical health and anxiety;
  • resilience factors in Aboriginal populations;
  • the assessment, diagnosis and treatment for Aboriginal people suffering from anxiety; and
  • intervention, prevention and treatment programs for anxiety.

The paper concludes with a listing of resources for Aboriginal peoples seeking help for and/or information about anxiety.

Studies have found that compared to the general population, depression rates for Aboriginal people are higher for both males and females residing either on or off reserve. The third paper, Understanding Depression in Aboriginal Communities and Families, provides a brief outline of symptoms of depression, followed by a discussion of depression across cultures and the known prevalence of depression among Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Selected risk factors for depression are also considered within the historical and contemporary experiences of Aboriginal peoples, including colonization and forced assimilation; disrupted relationships and connection to family; physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual abuse; and the intergenerational transmission of abuse. Finally, the paper concludes with an examination of some health consequences related to depression and Western and Aboriginal approaches to healing.

All three papers in this series call for more research in a number of areas related to mental health and Aboriginal peoples. The following areas are identified as in need of further investigation:

  • the prevalence, stressors, risk factors, and health implications of PTSD, anxiety and depression;
  • the cultural factors that foster resilience in Aboriginal communities; and
  • the opportunities for interventions that honour Aboriginal holistic values and traditions, promote resilience, heal families and communities, improve collective health and well-being, and reduce environmental factors that perpetuate trauma within communities.

 

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