Nunavimmiut fare poorly in health survey

Suicide the number one cause of death in Nunavik


The preliminary results of the 2004 Qanuippitaa health survey show some positive improvements in the state of Nunavik residents’ health since 1992.

But the survey’s findings also point to several disturbing increases in the levels of abuse, violence, substance use and suicide, which are affecting the health and well-being of Nunavimmiut.

An overview, released during last week’s annual general meeting of Nunavik Regional Health and Social Services Board in Kuujjuaq, shows:

* Drug use is very widespread (60 per cent) and has increased since 1992 and now includes use of cocaine and injected drugs;
* Three out of four Nunavimmiut over 18 consume alcohol and half binge drink;
* About one in five women aged 35 years or over is anemic, the majority due to iron deficiency;
* 11 per cent of Nunavik women aged 35 and over are at high risk of bone fractures;
* One in four households stated having lacked food during the month preceding the survey;
* One of every four babies born from 2000 to 2004 was given up for adoption, often to older parents; and;
* Pregnant women were found to be smoking (82 per cent), consuming alcohol (44 per cent) and using drugs.

The survey’s data shows suicide is the primary cause of mortality in Nunavik. Data confirms completed suicides are merely “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of the overall problem.

The survey says more than one-third of adults, more women than men, have seriously thought about suicide and 21 per cent have attempted suicide. During the year preceding the survey, approximately 15 per cent of adults seriously thought about suicide and five per cent admitted making an attempt.

Hopelessness was a common feeling experienced by survey participants, with one in four men, and two in five women, feeling hopeless during the month before the survey.

This emotion was more common among young people. A feeling of worthlessness had similar levels of frequency.

More than one-third of women and 13 per cent of men admitted having been a victim of some form of sexual abuse during their lives. Close to 30 per cent of women admitted having been a victim of sexual abuse while they were children or adolescents.

A significant proportion of adults reported having been a victim of some form of violence. About 20 per cent were victims of acts as violent as strangulation or assault with a knife. Moreover, 33 per cent said violence constitutes a problem in their community. That number increases among older people.

On the positive side, nearly all those who participated in the survey, selected at random from 685 Inuit households, stated they were proud to be Inuit, no matter what their age; about eight in ten said they were satisfied with their life; and, about seven in ten considered themselves in good or excellent health.

Although smoking remains widespread, with more than 75 per cent of the population smoking on a daily basis, approximately half of all smokers had attempted to quit smoking during the 12 months before the survey and most households said they are trying to limit smoking inside their homes.

The survey found diabetes and high blood pressure remain at relatively low levels.

Levels of blood lead and mercury decreased between 33 and 50 per cent, respectively, due to the drop in consumption of country food and new regulations on lead pellet ammunition.

On Aug. 30, 2004, the Qanuippitaa survey team traveled on the Amundsen icebreaker for 33 days. During this tour, 1,061 Inuit men and women aged 15 to 83 years were received on board, interviewed and tested on their physical and mental health.

Before the arrival of the Amundsen, interviewers visited households selected at random. A preliminary questionnaire, filled out by the head of the family, usually the mother, provides a glimpse of the health profile of the household in question.

The survey was carried out by Quebec’s institute of public health, jointly with the public health research unit of Laval University and Nunavik’s department of Public Health, with financial support from Quebec’s Department of Health and Social Services department.

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