The rural community of Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat faced an exponential increase in suicides that triggered a state of emergency earlier this month.
Factors leading up to this occurrence are traced to the major role in people’s lives that geographic location and socio-economic climate play.
The people within the limited geographic boundaries of the Attawapiskat community have shorter life expectancies, poorer health, addictive personalities and higher rates of mental health issues, including suicide, according to a CNN report.
A Darwinian perspective contends that an individual is solely responsible for their life’s decisions and consequences. However, it is not coincidental that a particular group of individuals are not only born in, but seemingly stuck in, an area that stunts their growth and prosperity.
“Where you live and your ZIP code affects your life expectancy and how long you live, and it’s by design of our government,” said Siobhan King Brooks, CSUF assistant professor of African-American studies.
For example, the life expectancy in Compton is 75.7 years old, while the neighboring city of Cerritos is 83.2 years old, according to a study by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. It’s not pure coincidence that a distance of 11 miles can cut a life short by eight years.
Bringing it closer to home, Fullerton’s median household income, for example, is $76,456, compared to Compton’s $44,653, according to Sperling’s Best Places, a home census analytic organization. The two cities are so close in proximity, yet show such a drastic difference in average income.
One possible answer is that people with greater incomes are not open to helping impoverished people trapped in struggling areas, Brooks said.
Five years ago, Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over its housing crisis. The suicide rates could very well be attributed to economic hardships, according to the Globe and Mail, a news organization that serves the First Nation of Canada.
Further, Compton is ranked No. 87 in terms of economic hardship out of 101 cities in L.A. County, with 101 being the worst, according to the LA County Department of Public Health.
“We’re not allowed to live (anywhere),” Brooks said. “Where we are allowed to live are places that are killing us.”
The trend suggests that people who reside in suburban areas are generally happier and healthier compared to those who live in inner cities.
The system is “set up to systematically exploit and disenfranchise (inner-city citizens) in nearly every way,” said Jeffrey Cavanaugh, writer for Mint Press News. The system directs its detrimental intentions toward neighborhoods of poor minorities.
People in disenfranchised areas are more likely to become incarcerated and receive subpar education, according to a study by Arthur Adkins, associate professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park. If people are born in a region predetermined to fail, it is near impossible to overcome the institutional barriers set before them.
Just like the people of Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat, people in the United States are being plagued by their ZIP codes, unfortunately making suicide the answer for many.
Although it’s nice to think that where people are born will not dictate the life they lead, reality paints a different picture. Geographical factors are instrumental in the way individuals deal with the world, and the sooner people figure that out, the sooner the people can find ways to help those in need.