Halifax police chief wants to explore releasing monthly suicide stats

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The Halifax police board of commissioners are exploring if releasing the numbers of people who die by suicide in Halifax is something worth pursuing. Global’s Steve Silva reports on more – Jun 20, 2017

Halifax’s top cop says he wants to explore releasing statistics on suicides and attempted-suicide cases in an effort to start a discussion on the matter.

“My hope is that if we start at least talking about the whole issue around suicide, then perhaps we can be able to avoid some of those things,” Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais told reporters on Monday.

The data may come out monthly, he said. It wouldn’t include specific locations or details on what happened — just the outcomes.

During a Board of Police Commissioners meeting earlier in the day, Blais pitched the idea and noted that it’s still in its infancy.

“People are always afraid that there’s going to be the old issue of copycats. The reality is that there are suicides that occur. There is a significant number of attempts of suicides, and there’s a significant number of suicides that are completed,” he said.

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READ MORE: Mental health class now part of training for Halifax police officers

Blais said at the meeting that, during one shift a few Sundays ago, police responded to two suicides and one suicide attempt in the same area.

“This is becoming way too common, and I’m thinking that perhaps this is the time that we start looking at this as being a significant mental-health issue that deserves and requires reporting on,” he added.

When police officers attend a call that has mental-health component attached, they have to complete an Emotionally Disturbed Person form.

Statistics presented during the meeting showed that the number of those forms completed in the municipality increased 25.89 per cent from 309 during the month of May 2016 to 389 in May 2017.

When police stay to monitor someone staying involuntarily at a hospital due to their state of mental health, police have to complete an Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act form.

The form includes the number of hours an officer monitors the person.

Statistics presented show that the total number of hours increased 28.13 per cent from 192 in the month of May 2016 to 246 in May 2017 in the municipality.

“In a three-week period in May, we attended 28 attempted suicides just in Halifax district. That’s a lot in a three-week period,” said RCMP chief superintendent Lee Bergerman.

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The pattern continued in other months, she said.

Blais said he wants part of the discussion to look at how much time officers spend helping people suffering from mental-health issues.

READ MORE: MSVU student not allowed to tell others he’s suicidal per school’s wellness agreement

“I think there is some value in starting to put [suicide statistics] out there but just in a generic form of basic data so that we know,” Todd Leader, a mental health and addictions consultant, said on Tuesday.

He said that the statistics would provide information on how well the health-care system is performing at providing access to services to people in need, services that might have prevented the suicides and suicide attempts.

“We’ll never prevent all attempts at suicide, that’s an absurd kind of concept, but we can certainly have an impact on reducing and preventing some, and that’s what we should be focused on, and using that data might help,” Leader said.

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He said that he doesn’t believe that reporting more on suicide will lead to more people committing suicide.

Glamorizing or sensationalizing suicide in media is a problem, Leader added.

“Reaching the point where somebody is actually interested in ending their life by suicide is a very, very severe point to get to, and people don’t do that just because somebody else did,” he said.

READ MORE: NS Health Authority aware suicidal people cleared from ER have died by suicide

Karen Letofsky, president of the board of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, said that the public needs to know how many people are dying by suicide.

She said that her concern is with context, namely that statistical data alone doesn’t address the whole story.

“It doesn’t shed enough light on the reasons, the resources that are there. It doesn’t provide the fulsome conversation we need to have in order to really address the impact of suicide,” Letofsky said on the phone while on a trip in France.

She also said that the data shouldn’t be coupled with crime statistics.

“Maybe do it on a semi-annual basis in the sense of the conversation should be the emotional well-being of the community. Let’s look at it in the context of other mental-health variables and statistics,” Letofsky said.

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Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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