Advisory: This article contains references to suicide. Reader discretion advised.

Mercury exposure in Grassy Narrows First Nation has been linked to the community’s high youth suicide attempt rate, which is three times greater than that of other First Nations in Canada, a new study has found.

The research, published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Perspective journal, analysed 80 mothers and 162 children between the ages of five and 17 from the community.

It found the consumption of fish from mercury-contaminated waters led to nervous system disorders and psychological distress in community members over generations. Mothers from Grassy Narrows indicated that 41 per cent of young adolescents from the community have attempted suicide.

A worried Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) First Nation mother expressed how the research’s findings are affecting her family and community in a recording played at a press conference in Toronto on Wednesday.

“We’re in an emergency in our home,” said Chrissy Isaacs, whose voice was fragile as she mentioned her niece recently died by suicide.

“Even on social media you see people saying that they feel like they don't want to live or they don't know how to deal with what they’re going through. ... It's not their fault. It's a part of the sickness from the dumping of mercury and I feel like we need to make people aware of that.”

According to the study, the community’s waters were contaminated in 1970 when a paper mill dumped nine tonnes of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, upstream of Grassy Narrows, which is located in Treaty 3 territory, about 88 kilometres northeast of Kenora, Ont.

Prior to the dump, the community had not reported any suicide attempts.

Now, a few generations later, the frequency of youth suicide attempts in Grassy Narrows far surpasses that of other First Nations in the country, said Donna Mergler, the study’s lead author, at the press conference.

“You can see this cascade of effects,” said Merger explaining the spider-web-lookalike illustration. “We found that the mother's childhood mercury exposure is associated with today's nervous system disorders, as well as a psychological distress.”

The researchers examined the intergenerational effect through the maternal lineage and looked at the mother's umbilical cords which showed their grandmothers’ mercury exposure.

“When you eat fish with mercury and you're pregnant, the mercury is actively transported across the placenta…that affects the (foetus) development,” said Mergler.

The effects of mercury have not only affected the community’s mental health, but also their way of living.

Grass Narrows First Nation Chief Rudy Turtle said the community is “very saddened” by the report, but the findings only confirm what they already knew.

“The impacts of mercury have been very devastating in terms of our economy and our way of life,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve done the best we can to address those issues, but, we need a lot of help.”

Turtle explained how hunting and eating fish is not only a cultural tradition for Grassy Narrows, but it was also a major source of revenue for the community.

“In terms of our economy, our way of life has been totally destroyed,” the chief said at the press conference. “We’re unable to continue our traditional activity.”

Due to the challenges the community has faced, the First Nation is demanding the federal and provincial governments provide all community members with “fair compensation,” funding for counselling and help for mental health workers in the community.

The community is also calling on the government to withdraw from its territory.

“You’ve done enough damage already, why do more?” said Turtle.

Sol Mamakwa, deputy leader and Indigenous relations critic for Ontario’s Official Opposition, said it’s important for people to know that the First Nation’s environment and adolescents are hurting.

“This study defines why we need to do better. We must do better,” said Mamakwa, who also hopes to see more mental health resources and support from different levels of government.

“We cannot continue to accept that suicide attempts and … suicides (are) normal.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.