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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2 Comments

  1. Canada is a progressive country in certain ways, however it lacks in some extremely important areas. I will admit I did not know that Canada does not have a national suicide prevention plan in place. Therefore, I definitely agree, especially with the astounding number of suicides and attempted suicides of youth in the last year. Even just looking at the state of emergency that was declared in Attawapiskat due to suicide and suicide attempts, I believe Canada should implement a plan. When developing the plan for First Nations communities, I believe community and band members should be consulted on the specific needs of the youth in their community. I would also like to comment that suicide attempts in First Nations communities, especially remote ones, are not a new phenomenon. I would recommend “Children of the Broken Treaty” by Charlie Angus to those interested in learning more about Attawapiskat’s traumatic history.

  2. I am very glad that this article mentioned FNMI individuals, even if briefly. However, my question is, where is the numbers or even mention on LGBTQ youth suicide rates? This is a demographic that should absolutely be considered when creating a national suicide plan. In an August 2013 study reported by Rainbow Health Canada, a rate of 1 out of 3 LGBTQ youth in Canada, the US, and New Zealand had attempted suicide, while 4 out of 10 had considered it, (https://www.torontodistresscentre.com/sites/torontodistresscentre.com/files/LGBT%20Youth%20Suicide.pdf). For such staggering statistics, these individuals deserve acknowledgement when considering a Canadian suicide prevention plan. My hope is that we as a nation work towards a prevention method based on the root cause of the issue (i.e. oppression and marginalization) rather than simply applying another band-aid to a societal injustice.

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