45 Youth from across the Arctic were invited by their Permanent Participants to attend Regional workshops in Ottawa, Canada (September 2018); Inari, Finland (October 2018); and Nuuk, Greenland (April 2019). A circumpolar workshop, held in Inari, Finland in February 2019, brought together youth from across Arctic States and PPOs. Together participants created 40 digital stories, with 35 consenting to share their stories on social media.
In each workshop, youth participated in a story circle to tell their own stories. Facilitators worked with each youth to support them in writing, audio recording, photography, filming, and editing their own stories. Each workshop ended with an opportunity for youth to screen their stories to the group, and to participate in a closing sharing group to discuss the messages of their stories, and their ideas and hopes for wellness and suicide prevention.
Storytelling was an effective way of eliciting personal experience related to both suicide and resilience. These stories surfaced areas of interest and importance to this group of circumpolar youth, such as: aspects of identity(ies); the political and social context of their lives; the importance of land and place, and of ancestry and community; and the residue of intergenerational trauma, even as the youth face the future with strength and hope. Many also carry the memory of friends and loved ones with futures lost to suicide.
The storytelling process not only conveys meaning, but helps to build meaning, and to share that with others. The exchange of stories among the youth from different circumpolar communities generated a strong imagined community of shared meaning, and shared bonds.
The youth stories were readily shareable through the digital medium, both among the youth groups, across circumpolar youth groups, and to other audiences. The storytelling activities accomplished the goal of engaging youth in a way that they experienced as meaningful.
Through follow-up focus groups, youth spoke about the use of the storytelling space as a safe space to speak directly about suicide, and about their life and emotional experiences. They expressed the wish to address suicide and to have an impact on suicide prevention.
Specific conclusions, including actions that youth would like to see undertaken, and to be part of:
Youth want to be involved in suicide prevention efforts, and they have meaningful contributions to make.
Youth want a culturally safe space to talk about suicide, and many want to have direct conversation about suicide in addition to talking about resilience.
Youth value a circumpolar forum and opportunity for dialogue with other youth across circumpolar communities and contexts. They derive a sense of belonging, hope and decreased isolation from this community.
Youth validated many of the outcomes from previous areas of focus of SDWG suicide prevention activities (e.g. RISING SUN). Many stories addressed stigma and used youth voice to defeat silence around mental health, addictions, and suicide.
Yet youth also understand suicide within a wholistic framework that goes well beyond “clinical” understanding of suicide. In particular, themes related to their view of political contexts and environmental stressors were prominent.
Some of the stories spoke either directly or indirectly of the importance of nurturing children, and of the devastating impacts of adversity and developmental trauma, including sexual assault, neglect, and being exposed to parental substance use.
Family, community and cultural strengths were strongly represented throughout the stories, underlining the importance of family, community and culture for any circumpolar suicide prevention and resilience-building efforts.
The youth stories were embedded in their ancestral lands, and all of the other strengths and protective factors, such as identity, belonging, language, culture, occupation, family and community, etc., are linked in the stories to the land. Some youth expressed anxiety about the future if there is ongoing disruption and loss of traditional lands. Some of the youth living away from the land, such as in urban areas, found ways of making these environments meaningful and found meaning through ongoing connection to homelands.
A report on the project, which summarizes key messages of the films, and findings from the sharing (focus) groups, is available in the project report.
We hope to create space and opportunities for youth to share their stories and ideas with a wider audience. Our hope is to grow Project CREATeS, both by continuing to engage more youth, and also by having youth share their stories with communities across the Arctic, and beyond. Through community response, youth want to spur community action for wellness and suicide prevention.