Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

EMF Studies

11 December 2016

In a Land of Thundering Reindeer, Suicide Stalks the Indigenous Sami

A man herds reindeer in northern Sweden.
For many Sami, suicide offers an escape on their terms from the inexorable force of climate change, which is eroding the traditional way of life in the Arctic.  “We are the nature people.  When you lose your land, you lose your identity.”  It’s very important for us to protect nature.

In a land of thundering reindeer, suicide stalks the indigenous Sami
by Melody Schreiber, Photos by Camilla Andersen, statnews.com, 9 December 2016

LOWER SOPPERO, Sweden — Hundreds of reindeer gallop around the corral, their hooves and knees popping with the sound of a fire crackling. It’s late, but here in the land of the midnight sun, the sky is silvery and bright. A mist rolls over the Arctic tundra, framing the herders and their animals in ghostly silhouettes.

This is a community wrapped tight in tradition: The indigenous peoples of northern Scandinavia — the Sami — have herded reindeer for generations. But it is also a community in crisis. Climate change has put enormous strain on these powerful animals — and on the men and women who care for them.

With that strain has come a mental health crisis. A crisis of suicide.

The Marainen family knows it too well.

Framed photos of Gustu and Heaika Marainen sit on their parents’ kitchen counter, flanked by candles and tiny silver reindeer figurines. The brothers committed suicide within months of one another in 2014.

“That year, time stood still,” Randi Marainen, their mother, says through a translator. “Just grief.”

Sweden had one of the highest suicide rates in the world during the 20th century, but that number steadily declined over the decades, thanks to better treatment options and less stigma around mental health. Among the Sami, however, suicide is a growing problem.

About 80,000 Sami live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia, including 20,000 in Sweden. That’s a tiny fraction of the national population of 9.85 million Swedes.

Half of Sami adults in Sweden suffer from anxiety and depression, says Petter Stoor, a Sami psychologist and researcher. According to his research, 1 in 3 young indigenous reindeer herders has seriously contemplated or attempted suicide. That’s more than double the rate among their Swedish peers. Other researchers have found rates of suicidal ideation to be nearly four times higher among Sami than among other Swedes.

For many Sami, suicide offers an escape on their terms from the inexorable force of climate change, which is eroding the traditional way of life in the Arctic.

“We are the nature people,” says Frøydis Nystad Nilsen, a Sami psychologist. “When you lose your land, you lose your identity.”

“It’s very important for us to protect nature,” she adds. “But it’s not easy.”

While nature is a major stressor in Sami life, nature may also be the cure.

Continue reading:
https://www.statnews.com/2016/12/09/suicide-sweden-sami-mental-health/

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