November 10, 2016 7:33 pm
Updated: November 11, 2016 7:57 am

Mental health professionals focus on schools in northern Sask. suicide crisis

WATCH ABOVE: More mental health workers are in northern Saskatchewan following the deaths of six young girls by suicide. As Joel Senick reports, they are desperately trying to prevent further tragedies.


Mental health experts in La Ronge, Sask., are focused on identifying children deemed “high risk” to harm themselves in communities currently dealing with a youth suicide crisis, according to the area’s health region CEO.

“Our focus has been working with the schools, connecting with youth in the schools to identify the ones that are high risk,” Andrew McLetchie, the Mamawetan Churchill River Health Region CEO, said in an interview Wednesday.

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“Basically the goal is to connect with them, discuss with them and their families’ just what can be done to reduce risk.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan’s new children’s advocate making suicide crisis his top priority

In October, six girls under the age of 15 committed suicide in northern Saskatchewan; five were from communities served by the Mamawetan region. McLetchie said local mental health workers have “dealt with youth suicide in the past,” but never to this degree.

“It’s not something we’ve seen before,” McLetchie said.

Northern Saskatchewan leaders say the communities affected by the suicides continue to see children attempt to harm themselves.

Peter Beatty, the chief of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, said his communities are seeing weekly suicide attempts, while Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson has indicated that more than 20 children in her community have been labeled as “high risk.”

“We just got an alarming report from the RCMP that over the last month they’ve been called out 97 times for mental health related calls,” Cook-Searson said after a meeting with local, provincial and federal officials Wednesday.

“We still have a lot of work to do.”

READ MORE: Premier Brad Wall visits northern Saskatchewan amid suicide crisis

If a parent suspects their child may be struggling with their mental health, McLetchie said they should speak directly to them.

“If you see your child is withdrawn or there’s other changes of behaviour, if they’re acting different, that’s where we really encourage parents to talk with their kids,” McLetchie said.

“Talking about suicide won’t prompt kids to actively do it, if anything it actually helps them realize there’s somebody they can talk with and there’s other options they can take.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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