Indigenous peoples in Canada experience disproportionate rates of suicide compared to non-Indigenous populations. Indigenous communities and organizations have designed local and regional approaches to prevention, and the federal government has developed a national suicide prevention framework. However, public health systems continue to face challenges in monitoring the population burden of suicide and suicidal behaviour. National health data systems lack Indigenous identifiers, do not capture data from some regions, and do not routinely engage Indigenous communities in data governance. These challenges hamper efforts to detect changes in population-level outcomes and assess the impact of suicide prevention activities. Consequently, this limits the ability to achieve public health prevention goals and reduce suicide rates and rate inequities.
This paper provides a critical analysis of the challenges related to suicide surveillance in Canada and assesses the strengths and limitations of existing data infrastructure for monitoring outcomes in Indigenous communities. To better understand these challenges, we discuss the policy context for suicide surveillance and examine the survey and administrative data sources that are commonly used in public health surveillance. We then review recent data on the epidemiology of suicide and suicidal behaviour among Indigenous populations, and identify challenges related to national surveillance.
To enhance capacity for suicide surveillance, we propose strategies to better track progress in Indigenous suicide prevention. Specifically, we recommend establishing an independent community and scientific governing council, integrating Indigenous identifiers into population health datasets, increasing geographic coverage, improving suicide data quality, comprehensiveness, and timeliness, and developing a platform for making suicide data accessible to all stakeholders. Overall, the strategies we propose can build on the strengths of the existing national suicide surveillance system by adopting a collaborative and inclusive governance model that recognizes the stake Indigenous communities have in suicide prevention.