Sweden: 1 in 3 Young Reindeer Herders Consider Suicide

March 23, 2015 • Philip BurgessBlog, Challenges, EALLIN

Many might consider reindeer herding to be some kind of idyllic life. But it has its darker side. Anxiety, depression and the struggle for land are eroding the powers and vitality of young herders, and this appears to be particularly the case in Sweden at the present time, though anecdotally it is known that this is a challenge for young people across the world of reindeer husbandry. In Sweden, 1 in 3 young herders (18-29) have considered suicide.

Three excellent articles in NRK Sapmi by Liv Inger Somby this last week on this difficult topic. The first is an interview with Petter Stoor, a Sami psychologist who works at SANKS (Samisk nasjonalt kompetansesenter – psykisk helsevern go rus), based in Karasjok, Norway. SANKS is now the only institution in the Nordic countries that has expertise in culturally adapted suicide prevention among Sami, including culturally and linguistically adapted clinical psychiatry. Stoor stated in the article

There are complex reasons [for suicide]. Reindeer herding is a confrontational environment on many different levels. Everyday is very tough with the struggle for land. Constantly one has to fight in order to operate a profitable pastoralism. The range is huge and very complex, ranging from external to internal conflicts and family problems, which can lead to the youth gets tough in everyday life. Many feel their situation as heavy, they cannot mastered their defeats.

In a related article, Piere Berqvist was interviewed about his experiences, which he described as being minutes from death by his own hand.

When I talk with youth, so are very many concerned about everyday life. They are worried over the winters can be very harsh, and the harsh weather wreaks havoc on those who are looking after the animals virtually around the clock. We have big problems with predators with enormous casualties. Many of the young struggling financially.

He says that the external struggle for land is hotting up and many are worn out by the developments happening in pastures. They must often fight a vast battle with both litigation and large legal fees. Everyday life for many consists of fighting against developments such as wind power, building cabins, logging and mining establishments in the areas where they will be living as herders.

In addition..parents and relatives must make important selections about who gets continue as herder and who must leave the industry. There is no space at all. It wreaks havoc on the young.

It should be noted that Piere Berqvist and Petter Stoor contributed to the EALLIN full report and Executive Summary and Piere addressed the World Reinder Herders’ Congress in China, telling of his experience. Piere now travels around the Sami area mentoring and talking to young people about his personal experiences.

In another article by Somby, she interviewed 22 year Per Jonas Partapuoli, a reindeer herder from the Swedish side who is also a new member to the Board of ICR. In the article Partapuoli talks about the heavy impact suicide is having on young people across reindeer herding in Sweden,

Many walk around with a bottomless grief after losing good friends, while others have a constant fear, about who is the next one who will not live longer. Everyone knows everybody – the reindeer herding society is not big in Sweden .

Thanks to Liv Inger Somby for covering this important topic in such depth.