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What Causes Depression and How can Aboriginal Individuals and Communities Deal with It?

What Causes Depression?

Depression is more than feeling sad or "empty." It is a biological mood disorder that can be brought on by upsetting life events, being sick and other psychological factors or changes in a person's life or environment. Some people are more likely to become depressed because of a family history of the disorder, while others may be more likely to have depression because of their surroundings and lives. Many people in Aboriginal communities have to deal with strong factors that can lead to depression, including:

  • the long-term effects of residential school experiences on family members
  • sadness from losing one's culture and heritage
  • higher rates of alcoholism and substance abuse
  • greater incidences of violence and sexual abuse
  • living in poverty.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

Each person feels depression differently, but some common symptoms can include:

  • feelings of sadness
  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • changes to sleeping habits, such as oversleeping or sleeplessness
  • unhappiness in previously enjoyed social and cultural activities
  • suicidal thoughts or past suicide attempts
  • changes in eating habits, such as overeating or loss of appetite.

What Can I Do if I am Depressed?

If you experience symptoms of depression for longer than two weeks, it may be a sign of serious long-term depression, a major depressive disorder that can only be diagnosed by a qualified professional. It's important to get help from a doctor or a qualified mental health therapist.

Here are some ways that you can help reduce the symptoms of depression while improving your overall physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being:

  • Get plenty of rest and eat a balanced diet.
  • Engage in physical activity on a regular basis for example, start or join a walk program with friends, or play actively with your children.
  • Cut down or stop any intake of drugs, alcohol, tobacco or caffeine.
  • Set realistic short- and long-term goals.
  • Trust that your symptoms will get better with time.
  • Avoid making any serious decisions.
  • Stay connected to others. Join a circle, a community activity or counselling program.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from a family member or an Elder.
  • Look for the spiritual practices available in your community, which may be different for different people and communities.

What can Aboriginal Communities Do to Reduce Depression?

Although every Aboriginal group has its own practices and traditions, most groups generally share a belief that you can't treat an individual separately from his or her community. Here are some ways that communities and community members can help someone suffering from depression:

  • Offer kindness and support.
  • Offer counselling or treatment services.
  • If the person is threatening to hurt him or herself, take it seriously.
  • Help the person get help. Never agree to keep secrets.
  • Provide training for professionals, such as physicians, teachers and mental health workers.
  • Promote personal wellness through community and school-based activities.
  • Host cultural events.

Additional Resources