Previous research has shown that indigenous Sami’s mental health is influenced by cultural determinants such as competence in the indigenous Sami language, the context of living and their identification with their ethnic group but also with the majority community. Since the first studies of Sami adolescents´ mental health were conducted in the 90´ties, a growing and strong indigenous cultural revitalization process has taken place, providing greater acceptance, stronger political rights, better living conditions and higher education rates among the indigenous Sami in Norway. To which degree this change has influenced the impact of cultural determinants on young Sami´s mental health during ten years of a strong social and cultural revitalization is questioned in this study.
The Norwegian Arctic Adolescent Health study was conducted in 2003-2005 in 4,881 junior high school students (RR: 83 %) in the Arctic Norway. Among the participants aged 15-16 years, 10 % (450) were indigenous Sami. Mental health was measured by Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The cultural determinants measured in this study were; Sami and national Norwegian identity, ethnic identity exploration and commitment, integration attitudes, ethnic context of living, Sami language competence and cultural discrimination, all controlled for sociodemographic factors (SES, gender and region).
The findings showed that ethnic identity exploration acted as a protective factor in contrast to strong ethnic identity affirmation, which increased both Internalising and Externalising problems. Having a strong relationship to the majority community mitigated Internalising problems. Externalising problems was highest for Sami adolescents growing up in a context dominated by Norwegians culture. Sami language competence and integration attitudes were not significant.
When cultural discrimination was entered into the regression analyses, the positive effect of ethnic identity exploration disappeared for Externalising problems For Internalising problems identity issues became insignificant. For all types of problems, cultural discrimination was the strongest cultural determinant.
Conclusion: Cultural determinants have to be considered in providing a better mental health for indigenous adolescents and in particular, cultural discrimination and ethnic identity issues.