Canada needs a suicide prevention plan
The Star.com – Opinion/Editorials – Canada is the only developed country without a national plan to reduce its rate of suicide. The Canadian Medical Association Journal has rightly called for a program to be developed.
Sept. 11, 2016. Editorial
As children across the country headed back to class this week, some were remembering friends they lost or almost lost to suicide in the first few months of 2016.
Indeed, in some communities, a rash of teen suicides could only be described as a crisis. In Woodstock, a city of 38,000, for example, students lost five of their peers. In Kuujjuaq, a community of only 2,500 in northern Quebec, five young people also died. And last April, the Attawapiskat First Nation of 2,800 in northern Ontario declared a state of emergency after 11 of its youth attempted suicide in just one weekend.
All of the communities acted quickly to prevent more suicides and attempts. For example, a suicide prevention strategy was unveiled in July in Kuujjuaq for all of Canada’s 60,000 Inuit.
But what local communities can’t do is draw on the resources of a national suicide prevention strategy — one that might well have prevented some of these deaths in the first place.
Indeed, Canada is, disturbingly, the only developed country without a national funded program dedicated to reducing the suicide rate, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
That seems incredibly wrong-headed, considering that suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 34 (after motor vehicle accidents).
And it seems willfully blind considering the success of similar programs elsewhere. In all 21 developed countries with government-led prevention programs, studies indicate that suicide rates, especially among the young and the elderly, have declined.
Indeed, Canada need only look to Quebec, which cut suicide rates in half among those 15 to 19 and overall suicides by a third after it implemented its own plan in 1999.
Canada’s rate has remained steady over several years at 11.5 per 100,000 people when it was last measured in 2012. That compares to a rate of 7 in the U.K. in 2012, though some other western countries, such as the United States, France, Sweden and Germany have higher rates than Canada despite their programs.
Still, the goal is to get to zero. That’s why the Canadian Medical Association Journal rightly called for a national plan in an editorial this week, timed to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Week.
A suicide prevention program should not be just a response to a crisis, but a well-thought-out strategy that involves the education, justice, employment and social welfare sectors. It would address risk factors such as inadequate access to mental health and addictions treatment, childhood sexual and physical abuse and intergenerational trauma.
Ottawa could start by creating a centre of expertise that will engage with indigenous organizations and build on Quebec’s strategy to cut suicide rates, the CMA journal argues.
It sounds like a good plan, and one the federal government should start on immediately. Canada should take the lead from other developed nations on this important issue.
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