Bioethics Blogs

The Impact of Climate Change on Inuit Mental Health

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox describes how changing climatic conditions and decreasing sea ice levels are exacerbating mental health problems for Inuit people in Nunatsiavut, Labrador.

“Inuit thrive on the ice. I mean, we’re people of the ice. We’re Sikumiut.”

I’m sitting in a sun-lit office in the Town Council building, listening to Charlotte Wolfrey talk about changes in sea ice. Ms. Wolfrey is the AngajukKâk (mayor) of the Inuit community of Rigolet, a remote fly-in town of 300 people situated on the North Coast of Labrador, Canada, and the Southern-most Inuit community in the world. I’m working with a team of Inuit and non-Inuit researchers on a multi-year project examining potential impacts of climate change and related environmental alterations on health and wellness.

The questions of how changes in temperature and climate are affecting her community have been a priority for Wolfrey over the past few years. In response, she has been leading several multi-year research projects to examine how all of these changes are disrupting travel patterns, changing hunting opportunities, and negatively affecting health and wellness.

Wolfrey is right to be concerned. Inuit in Nunatsiavut have been experiencing rapid changes, including increasing seasonal temperatures, changes in weather and snow patterns, and alterations in plant and animal behaviour. In particular, there has been a rapid decline in sea ice in recent years, which is causing significant disruptions to Inuit culture and livelihoods.

rigolet6Inuit need ice. They want it. And lots of it.

Inuit use ice to access hunting and fishing grounds, to travel to their cabins, and to visit other communities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.