Originally published on Bell’s Let’s Talk Blog.
Just when I thought I’d done everything I could to contribute to the conversations around youth mental health and suicide prevention, I read Laura Eggertson’s excellent piece for CBC NEWS, ‘Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy – because they work’.
Her article set out in thoughtful detail the evidence for a national suicide prevention strategy, however The Honourable, Dr. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health dismissal of a strategy was frankly, disheartening. Previous governments, policy makers and the current government’s failure to implement a fully funded, comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy which addresses the needs of young adults, seniors and those at increased risk of suicide is unacceptable.
It is incumbent on our federal policy makers to protect the emotional health and prevent suicide in populations at risk. Eggertson’s online article highlights the flat-out rejection for a national suicide prevention strategy by the health minister: “Strategies will not be our answer,” she added. “Taking action to close the (socio-economic) gaps will.”
While I agree wholeheartedly with the health minister on closing the socio-economic gap, specifically within Indigenous communities-a key peg in the Liberal government’s mandate. A national suicide prevention strategy would allow for integrated care, support and programs in regional mental health centers across Canada. These regional centers would also act as hubs that equip youth and others with the necessary tools and skills that build resiliency thereby protecting a person’s emotional health and fostering a sense of connectedness, community and hopefulness.
The most recent statistics for suicide in Canada is 15 per 100,000 people. Rates of suicide are even higher among specific groups including youth, elderly and incarcerated persons. The rate of death by suicide in northern communities is even higher. For Inuit peoples the suicide rate is between 60-70 per 100,000 people. (Source: CMHA)
And yet Canada is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that does not have a national suicide prevention strategy.
Although the health minister suggests that the provinces have suicide prevention strategies already in place. Most people who have engaged with provincial mental health systems as patients or caregivers will tell you that access to support and treatment is woefully lacking and in many provinces completely broken. Quebec is the only province to establish a successful framework that addresses the needs of its citizens, especially youth:
In Canada, Quebec’s multilevel suicide prevention strategy14 is credited for the more than 50% reduction in suicide among youth (aged 15 to 19 years) in that province since the strategy was implemented.
National Suicide Prevention Strategy for Canadians—From Research to Policy and Practice https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4501580
‘When people have access to a high quality of education, when they have access to jobs, when they have money in their pockets, when they have hope – that’s when we are going to be able to make progress’
The health minister must accept that none of the above will matter to someone living with a mental health condition. In fact, what they may be feeling is alone and stigmatized and that they have become a burden to society. Socio-economic equality, education and job opportunities are vital and so is implementing and supporting a national suicide prevention strategy.
Suicide is the tragic outcome from many factors. The most significant of these factors is Major Depressive Disorder. The World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disability worldwide. (Source: WHO, 2012)
What we absolutely must understand is that people with MDD are at significant risk of completing suicide. (Source: Centre for Suicide Prevention, 2015).
The true cost of not having a national suicide prevention strategy is told in the many lives lost each day in this country to suicide. Research tells us that with appropriate and timely interventions suicide in most cases can be prevented. A robust national suicide prevention strategy, with measurable outcomes would go a long way in addressing specific mental health needs in communities across this country.
As a survivor of suicide loss, I’ll continue speaking and writing in my son’s honour, because as a friend said recently, ‘you never know who is listening or whose life you’ll touch’.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day and everyday add your voice to this important conversation.