A new study says putting more resources into tackling food insecurity, dating violence and reconfiguring gender norms could positively impact mental health in the N.W.T. because they are significant factors that influence a youth's likelihood of experiencing moderate or severe depression.
"It's really important to understand adolescent mental health," said Carmen Logie, the study's co-author, and an associate professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in global health equity and social justice.
"If you can promote adolescent mental health and interrupt depression, it actually means that people have a better chance of not being depressed in adulthood."
The findings emerged from surveying participants of sexual health workshops put on by Fostering Open Expression Among Youth (FOXY), which was developed for Northern and Indigenous girls and young women in the N.W.T., and Strengths, Masculinities and Sexual Health (SMASH), which serves Northern and Indigenous boys and young men in the N.W.T.
FOXY also does research with the goal of looking at the effectiveness of its programming and "facilitating dialogue about sexual health issues in the North."
Half of youth had symptoms of depression
The researchers asked youth whether they experience depression, and about their gender, dating experiences and food security.
Out of 399 youth sampled, more than half had symptoms of depression, and a quarter experienced severe depression symptoms.
Respondents who were female, gender-diverse or food insecure were twice as likely to experience depression than heterosexual, food secure males.
"This is not a small association. This is a significant association," said Logie of the findings relating to 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
Dating violence is also a significant risk factor for depression, with youth who were subjected to relationship violence twice as likely to be moderately or severely depressed.
More resources into risk factors could improve mental health
The study published in Global Mental Health identifies opportunities for mental health intervention in early life, which is important because the N.W.T. 's child and adolescent hospitalizations for mental health are 2.5 times the national rate, the study states.
The findings are not about doom and gloom, said Logie. In fact, they reinforce the idea that putting resources behind food security, healthy relationships and education about sex and gender, could lead to better health outcomes for youth.
Food security causes stress and shame, but is already the subject of advocacy in the North, said Logie, adding those existing efforts must be supported.
The same goes for gender norms, said Logie.
"When we transform gender norms, it's going to help reduce violence, it's going to help reduce LGBTQ2S stigma and in turn will improve mental health, but also sexual health."
Not unique to the North
The greater likelihood of experiencing depression doesn't mean there's anything "innately, inherently wrong or pathological about LGBTQ people," Logie stressed.
She said the results for 2SLGBTQ people (Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) are not unique to the North, because across the globe they are not adequately represented or normalized in society.
"Until we live in a world where people are treated equally, represented equally, accepted equally … we will see health disparities.".
Workshops like those put on by FOXY and SMASH help youth to reflect on gender and power, but the findings of the study highlight problems that require a whole-community approach, said Logie.
"We all need to be thinking about [what's] liberating for all of us," she said. "Because gender norms hurt young men in a different way than they hurt young women or trans and nonbinary [people]."