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Canada needs funding to plan national suicide prevention strategy, experts say

A rash of suicides in a southern Ontario city has many Canadians wondering if we're doing enough to help address the mental health of kids and teens. On Tuesday, hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms in Woodstock to demand action. Laurel Gregory has more.

Canadian officials need to pour resources into creating a national suicide prevention strategy, experts say in a new editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Funding should be allocated as soon as the 2017 federal budget – that money could go towards zeroing in on helping youth and indigenous people, the two groups that are hardest hit with high suicide rates, they say.

“Substantial evidence exists to guide the creation of a strong suicide prevention strategy in Canada. It is noteworthy that the incumbent government, when in Opposition, called for such a strategy,” Dr. Kirsten Patrick, the CMAJ’s deputy editor, and her colleague, journalist Laura Eggerston, wrote.

“News of clusters of suicides in Kuujjauq, Que., Woodstock, Ont., and the Neskantaga First Nation may leave most Canadians feeling helpless before what seems an intractable problem,” they wrote in the editorial published Tuesday.

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READ MORE: Here are the three groups at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues in Canada

In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth between 15 and 24 years old.  This is why the duo wants a national strategy to focus on young Canadians. Indigenous groups are most vulnerable, too: take Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador, for example – suicide rates there are 25 times higher than the national average and 10 times higher than the Nunavut average.

The national Inuit political association – called the Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami (ITK) – has its own suicide prevention plan, for its part.

The national strategy would include goals to lower suicide rates. But prevention considers more than just suicide: it identifies who’s most at risk for mental health issues or is already grappling with these issues, and would touch on how to roll out intervention plans at school, at work and in the home.

READ MORE: Canadian millennials hardest hit by mental health woes, according to poll

Even the World Health Organization is calling on countries to pull together national strategies to address suicide. Twenty-one OECD countries already have these policies in place, and so far, they’ve helped to lower suicide rates, the editorial said. It’s time for a national strategy, Patrick and Eggerston said.

The editorial’s release aligns with Saturday’s World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s also Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 10th to the 16th. 

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WATCH: A new report has been released, indentifying several ways to improve mental health care in the province. Global’s Paul Cormier has the details.

Mental health report identifies ways to improve care
Mental health report identifies ways to improve care

More than one in three Canadians are at “high risk” of mental health issues, and millennials are among the most vulnerable groups, according to an Ipsos report released earlier this year.

It’s the second year the pollsters zeroed in on their Mental Health Risk Index. Based on Canadians’ levels of stress, and feelings of hopelessness and depression, the report is classifying 35 per cent of the country as “high-risk.”

Thirty-two per cent of Canadians said that several times over the past year they felt stressed to the point where it affected their daily life. Another 18 per cent admitted they felt depressed or hopeless almost daily for weeks-long stretches, while 19 per cent said they felt stressed to the point where they couldn’t cope with things on more than one occasion.

READ MORE: One-third of Canadians at ‘high risk’ for mental health concerns, poll warns

Millennials are dealing with tough times. Fifty-six per cent of the age group fell under the high-risk category – that’s a steep climb compared to 38 per cent of Generation X and 15 per cent of baby boomers.

Read the full CMAJ editorial here.

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If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 911 can send immediate help. The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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