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‘My appetite and mind would go’: Inuit perceptions of (im)mobility and wellbeing loss under climate change across Inuit Nunangat in the Canadian Arctic

  • Ayeb-Karlsson, Sonja
  • Hoad, Anna
  • Trueba, Mei L
Publication Date
Feb 16, 2024
UCL Discovery
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The academic literature on personal experiences of climate-induced wellbeing erosion (often conceptualised as ‘non-economic losses and damages’) is still limited. This represents a serious climate policy gap that hinders support for marginalised people across the world including Indigenous People. Lately, we have seen a rapid growth in empirical studies exploring linkages between climate change and mental health among Indigenous Inuit in Canada. However, its association with human (im)mobility remains unexplored. This review article brings together the empirical evidence of Inuit experiences and perceptions of climate-related wellbeing loss and (im)mobility while providing climate policy with guidance for appropriate action. The systematic review investigates how Inuit in Arctic Canada felt that climatic changes impacted their (im)mobility and mental health while putting these feelings into a wider context of colonial violence, forced child removal, the residential schools, and other systematic human rights abuses. Twelve electronic databases (four specific to Arctic research) were searched for English and French, peer reviewed, qualitative studies published between 2000 and 2021. Fifteen selected articles were analysed using NVivo and thematic narrative analysis from a climate-violence-health nexus systems approach. Three overarching climate-related wellbeing loss themes, all strongly intertwined with feelings of immobility, emerged from the literature namely ‘identity and cultural loss’, ‘land connection as a source of healing’, and ‘changing environment triggering emotional distress’. The narratives circled around Inuit land connection and how climate-induced temporary (im)mobility interrupted this relationship. Climatic changes isolated Inuit away from the land and cut off their ability to partake in land activities. This strongly eroded Inuit wellbeing, expressed through distress, anxiety, depression, social tension, suicide ideation and deep feelings of cultural loss. The findings showed how Inuit mental health strongly depend on a sustained connection to the land. Further empirical research among other Indigenous People or nomadic groups on wellbeing loss and climate-induced involuntary immobility is urgently needed. Future research should particularly explore how such mental health impacts tie into past and present (post)colonial traumas and current suicide occurrences. This will help climate policy, research, and adaptation planning better prepare and propose more contextually and culturally appropriate health actions in the future.

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