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Int J Circumpolar Health. 2013;72:20078. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v72i0.20078. Epub 2013 Mar 26.

A psychological autopsy study of suicide among Inuit in Nunavut: methodological and ethical considerations, feasibility and acceptability.

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Department of Psychiatry, McGill Group for Suicide Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



The increasing global prevalence of suicide has made it a major public health concern. Research designed to retrospectively study suicide cases is now being conducted in populations around the world. This field of research is especially crucial in Aboriginal populations, as they often have higher suicide rates than the rest of the country.


This article presents the methodological aspects of the first psychological autopsy study on suicide among Inuit in Nunavut. Qaujivallianiq Inuusirijauvalauqtunik (Learning from lives that have been lived) is a large case-control study, including all 120 cases of suicide by Inuit that occurred in Nunavut between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2006. The article describes the research design, ethical considerations and strategies used to adapt the psychological autopsy method to Nunavut Inuit. Specifically, we present local social and cultural issues; data collection procedures; and the acceptability, reliability and validity of the method.


A retrospective case-control study using the psychological autopsy approach was carried out in 22 communities in Nunavut. A total of 498 individuals were directly interviewed, and medical and correctional charts were also reviewed.


The psychological autopsy method was well received by participants as they appreciated the opportunity to discuss the loss of a family member or friend by suicide. During interviews, informants readily identified symptoms of psychiatric disorders, although culture-specific rather than clinical explanations were sometimes provided. Results suggest that the psychological autopsy method can be effectively used in Inuit populations.


Aboriginal; Canada; Inuit; Nunavut; cross-cultural; mental health; psychological autopsy; risk factors; suicide

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