December 1, 2017 3:46 pm

Students who started suicide pact in Montreal say it was a ‘joke,’ experts not laughing

The Montreal high school students who started a suicide pact among their peers said it was a "joke." But mental health experts are calling out the severity of the pact.

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Three Montreal high school students have been suspended after plans for a suicide pact circulated through the school and collected dozens of signatures.

Earlier this week, private secondary school, Collège d’Anjou sent a letter to parents saying a school staff member found a three-page letter inviting young people to take part in a suicide pact. It was signed by as many as 62 students.

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READ MORE: 13 kids northern Ontario community taken to hospital over fears of ‘suicide pact’

They agreed to kill themselves on Jan. 30.

The three students who created the invitation said it was a joke. They were suspended for the actions but are not facing any criminal charges, according to the Montreal Gazette.

In the letter, the school told parents it’s “taking this very seriously” and investigating the intention behind the letter.

WATCH: B.C. Coroner reports Lethbridge man’s death part of suicide pact

Suicide pacts ‘rare’

Suicide pacts are very rare, according to Robert Olson with the Centre for Suicide Prevention. Despite this, he said it should still be taken very seriously.

“For those who are at risk, it could be an added reason to carry through with the act,” he said.

Even though the three students said it was a joke, he said it’s still dangerous as high school is a vulnerable time for young adults as they can be “incredibly susceptible.”

Dr. Gail Beck, clinical director of the youth psychiatry program at Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, said there also could have been students who signed that pact who weren’t joking.

READ MORE: Why more Canadian millennials than ever are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues

“For some, it was probably not a prank,” she said. “If you look at the number of people who signed it … suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young Canadians. So you can’t ignore these numbers.”

Although suicide pacts are rare, they have been of concern among young people, particularly for vulnerable groups.

For example, in April 2016, 13 young people in Attawapiskat, a northern Ontario community, were taken to hospital after fears of a suicide pact. This came after a rash of suicide attempts in the community.

WATCH: Edmonton students send messages of hope to Attawapiskat youth after suicide attempts

Talking about suicide in a healthy way

Olson said the students who started the suicide pact letter could have thought it was a “taboo subject and were acting naughty.”

That’s why it’s important to talk openly about suicide in a healthy way, he added.

READ MORE: What every parent needs to know about suicide prevention

“It’s a fallacy that talking about suicide will put the idea in their heads,” he said. “You should ask someone directly, ‘are you thinking about suicide?'”

Beck agreed and said parents should talk to their children calmly about the subject, without showing fear or judgment. This can bring relief to people who have these thoughts.

Suicide among young Canadians

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in 15 to 24-year-olds in the country, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). It estimates that 4,000 Canadians die from suicide each year.

WATCH: String of suicides in Ontario prompts questions about mental health

Up to 20 per cent of young Canadians are affected by a mental illness or disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse are most typical for this age group.

The CMHA estimates that about five per cent of young men and 12 per cent of young women between 12 and 19 have experienced severe depression.

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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