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Being a young sami in Sweden: living conditions, identity and life satisfaction
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, Psychiatry. (Arcum)
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, Psychiatry. (Arcum)
2011 (English)In: Journal of Northern Studies, ISSN 1654-5915, Vol. 5, no 1, 9-28 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Objective: The aim of the present study was to illuminate the contemporary cultural reality of being a young Sami in Sweden, with special reference to issues such as identity/self-perception, autonomy, and experiences of being ill treated and discrimination.

Design: The study comprises a qualitative and a quantitative part. The qualitative part includes meetings, discussions and dialogues with young Sami and others. The quantitative part includes a questionnaire on socioeconomic conditions, Sami ethnicity, experiences of being ill-treated because of a Sami background, specific questions on identity and self-perception, questions about self-determination, and thoughts and expectations of the future. The sample consists of 876 young Sami aged 18–28, of whom 516 (59 per cent) responded to the questionnaire.

Results: A majority are proud to be Sami and wish to preserve their culture. 71 per cent have a close connection to a Sami community. Most of the young Sami have had to explain and defend their culture and way of life. Nearly half had perceived discrimination or ill-treatment because of their ethnicity, with reindeer herders reporting a higher degree of ill-treatment (70 per cent). Reindeer herders exist in a severe environment with an insecure legacy. Most of the young Sami in this study have a positive self-perception and think that their lives are meaningful. Very few dropped out of school and very few are unemployed.

Conclusion: We believe that there are protective factors that potentially explain the well-being of this group; a strong feeling of belonging among the Sami, strong connections to family, relatives and friends and good sociocultural adaptation (to have a job, completed school).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå University & The Royal Skyttean Society , 2011. Vol. 5, no 1, 9-28 p.
Keyword [en]
young Sami, perceived discrimination, well-being, ethnic identity
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-47594OAI: diva2:443303
Available from: 2011-09-26 Created: 2011-09-23 Last updated: 2016-05-24Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Ung same i Sverige: livsvillkor, självvärdering och hälsa
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Ung same i Sverige: livsvillkor, självvärdering och hälsa
2013 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]


The Sami are the indigenous people in Scandinavia. They have a long history of discrimination, racism and conflict which has had a significant impact on Sami self-esteem and possibly also on their health, especially mental health. There are some recent studies on the mental health of reindeer herding Sami in Sweden showing a high prevalence of self reported depression and anxiety compared to other Swedes in the area. Also a moderately elevated risk of suicide amongst reindeer herding male Sami exists. Several studies on the health of young Norwegian Sami have not found any major differences between the young Sami and young Norwegians in the majority population. This is the first study on the health and living conditions of young Sami in Sweden with a special reference to mental health.

Subjects and methods

Two groups of young Sami have been approached; schoolchildren aged 13-18 years participating in special school programs for Sami children (N=121) and a national sample of young adult Sami aged 18-28 years (N=516) with an explicit Sami identity. The schoolchildren responded to questions about wellbeing and functioning measured by a self report version of Kidscreen-52 and some questions about enculturation and experience of being badly treated because of ethnic background. The young adults responded to a questionnaire about living conditions, Sami identity, health and suicidal expressions, and about experiences of bad treatment because of ethnic background. Data were compared with data from other Swedish youngsters.

Main findings

Being a young Sami in Sweden – Living condition, identity and life satisfaction (Paper I)

A majority of the young adult Sami were proud of being Sami, they had a positive self perception and expressed a wish to preserve their culture. Bad treatment because of Sami background was frequent, about half of all respondents reported this experience and among reindeer herders seventy percent. The Sami experienced that they had to explain and defend the Sami culture and Sami way of living to a high degree, it become obvious that there is lack of knowledge about Sami and Sami culture among Swedes.

The health of young Swedish Sami with special reference to mental health (Paper II)

A majority of the young adults reported feeling healthy but close to half of the group often had worries, often forget things and often experienced lack of time for doing needed things. Women and those living alone reported more negative health. Sami with experience of bad treatment due to Sami background also reported a worse health i.e. more worries, more lack of time to do needed things and not feeling calm and relaxed.

Healthrelated quality of life in Sami schoolchildren in Sweden (Paper III)

The Sami children reported lower health-related quality of life (HRQL) compared to Swedish children in general. Girls had lower physical and psychological wellbeing than boys. Sami school children with experience of ethnicity related bad treatment reported a lower HRQL compared to those without this experience.

Suicidal expressions in young Swedish Sami (Paper IV)

Both young adult Sami and a reference group of young Swedes from the same geographical area (N=218) reported suicidal ideation, life weariness and death wishes to a high degree (30-50 %) but this was more common among Sami. The prevalence of suicide attempts did not, differ between Sami and other young Swedes, but subgroups of the Sami (reindeer herders and those being badly treated due to ethnicity) reported a higher degree of suicide attempts and having had plans to take own life compared to Sami without this experience.


The less favourable wellbeing (HRQL) of the Sami children in this study compared to Swedish children in general is worrisome and might partly be explained by experiences of ethnic related bad treatment, which can be especially troublesome in the turbulent adolescent years. The young adult Sami however seem to have a rather good or even better health compared to other young Swedes. They are proud of being Sami, have a close connection to the Sami community and strong connections to family and relatives. These are possible protective factors partly explaining the wellbeing of this group in spite of the high degree of ethnic related bad treatment reported.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2013. 58 p.
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1543
Samer, urfolk, psykisk hälsa, skolbarn, discriminering, unga vuxna, könsskillnader
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Research subject
Public health
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-63988 (URN)978-917459-548-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-02-05, Föreläsningssal A, psykiatriska kliniken, byggnad 32, Norrlands universitets sjukhuset, Umeå, 09:00 (Swedish)
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare

Funded by Country Council of Norrbotten reseach fund

Available from: 2013-01-14 Created: 2013-01-10 Last updated: 2016-08-17Bibliographically approved

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