Greenlandic youth with strong cultural identity is less vulnerable

More than a third of Greenland’s youth have experienced problems with alcohol, violence, and abuse growing up. Problems that have major consequences for their mental health. But research shows that a strong cultural identity and close relationships with the elderly have a preventive effect.


By Laura Philbert, Polarfronten, September 20 2021  


The proportion of Greenlandic youth who have experienced neglect growing up is declining. But despite this positive trend, there is still a large group of young people who have grown up under extremely harsh conditions. More than a third of Greenland’s young people say that they have experienced problems with alcohol, violence, and abuse in the homes where they grew up. And it has serious consequences. Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen, head of the Center for Public Health in Greenland, explains:


“If you look at the importance of the conditions in which you grow up, and the consequences of a stressful upbringing, you can see a much greater risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts later in life if you grew up with alcohol, violence or abuse in childhood. You are simply in a more vulnerable position.”


Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen has contributed to the report ‘Mental health and health among 15-34-year-olds in Greenland’ which was published in June 2021. In the report, she and a number of researchers have looked more closely at Greenlandic children and young people’s upbringing and mental health, which for the first time has included young people from the age of 15. And as something new, the researchers have chosen to investigate what things can have a positive effect on young people’s mental health.


“If you ask the citizens what makes them happy, they say it’s the place they live, to be in nature, the Greenlandic food, togetherness across generations. And it’s good for mental health. There just hasn’t been a bridge in the past between what makes people happy and the health-promoting work. That’s the bridge we’re building,” says Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen.

Relations and culture strengthen health

According to the survey, most Greenlandic youth express that they have a good connection to older generations, and that they have grown up with Greenlandic activities and traditions. And it can have a preventive effect, Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen explains:


“Learning and relationships across generations are fundamental to Greenlandic culture. There is huge strength in it. A lot of learning about culture takes place across generations. It can be the way you are in nature, to go hunting, different handicraft traditions, Greenlandic food, and Greenlandic values. And these are important protective factors for mental health.”


She adds that suicide research has revealed that cultural identity among young people in the Arctic plays a major role in mental health. And the report points out that it is especially the young people in Greenland who have grown up without this who are having a hard time.


“The most exposed young people are those who, in addition to being burdened by violence, alcohol, and abuse growing up, also lack a connection to their local communities, a relationship with the older generations, and a connection to the Greenlandic culture. They are the ones who feel the worst,”she says.

Efforts must be targeted

According to Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen, it is important not to generalize all young people in the work of promoting mental health:


“It’s about getting to know the young people. In fact, there’s a fairly large group of resourceful young people who, of course, we shouldn’t treat as if they were traumatized. And then there’s a small group of extremely vulnerable young people who we can’t expect to take part in leisure activities or take on tasks and responsibilities in the same way as those who are more resourceful.”


The plan is to use the new knowledge about the importance of a strong cultural identity and close relationships with older generations in the work promoting the mental health of young people going ahead.


“The municipalities are already in full swing. They have initiatives that are about children being more out in nature, getting the families more involved, and trying to secure more free leisure activities. But if you do not have a dialogue with the municipalities, you end up with national strategies where you generalize instead of paying attention to the fact that it might look one way in Maniitsoq and look completely different in Qaqortoq,” concludes Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen.


Contact: Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen. 



This article is originally posted in September 2021 as part of a theme issue of Polarfronten about Arctic Hub. The issue has been made as a collaboration between Arctic Hub and Polarfronten.

Focus on the good children’s life in Greenland The report ’Mental health and well-being among 15-34-year-olds in Greenland’, published in June 2021, is based on data from the ’Population survey in Greenland 2018’, which for the first time included young people from the age of 15. As part of the study, a special questionnaire was prepared for the 15-34-year-olds about their upbringing and mental health
According to the report, about half of 15-34-year-olds in Greenland have experienced problems with alcohol in the home, 30-40% have grown up with violence, and 40% of women have been sexually abused before the age of 18
The conditions of upbringing for Greenlanders have been examined in the population surveys since the beginning of the 1990s. The latest study shows for the first time a tendency for improvement among young people’s upbringing conditions. Fewer have experienced alcohol, violence, and abuse growing up, but the incidence is still high
The report has been prepared by the Center for Public Health in Greenland which is part of the National Institute of Public Health (
Nuuk The locals say that the places they live make them happy (Housing, Nuuk 2019, archive: Uffe Wilken)
Aasiaat From suicide research, it is known that cultural identity plays a major role in mental health (Archive, Aasiaat 2009, Uffe Wilken)
Graph Despite the proportion of Greenlandic young people who experience alcohol problems, violence, and sexual abuse in childhood has fallen in recent decades, about a third are still growing up in stressful circumstances