Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations peoples in Canada

  • Amy Bombay Institute of Neuroscience, Carleton University
  • Kim Matheson Department of Psychology, Carleton University
  • Hymie Anisman Institute of Neuroscience, Carleton University
Keywords: Stress, trauma, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, intergenerational


Stressful events may have immediate effects on well-being, and by influencing appraisal processes, coping methods, life styles, parental behaviours, as well as behavioural and neuronal reactivity, may also have long lasting repercussions on physical and psychological health. In addition, through these and similar processes, traumatic experiences may have adverse intergenerational consequences. Given the lengthy and traumatic history of stressors experienced by Aboriginal peoples, it might be expected that such intergenerational effects may be particularly notable. In the present review we outline some of the behavioural disturbances associated with stressful/traumatic experiences (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorder), and describe the influence of several variables (age, sex, early life or other experiences, appraisals, coping strategies, as well as stressor chronicity, controllability, predictability and ambiguity) on vulnerability to pathology. Moreover, we suggest that trauma may dispose individuals to further stressors, and increase the response to these stressors. It is further argued that the shared collective experiences of trauma experienced by First Nations peoples, coupled with related collective memories, and persistent sociocultural disadvantages, have acted to increase vulnerability to the transmission and expression of intergenerational trauma effects.