Sask. children’s advocate raises alarm bells over Indigenous youth suicide rate

Sask. children’s advocate raises alarm bells over Indigenous youth suicide rate
WATCH ABOVE: The children’s advocate is calling on action from the provincial and federal governments to deal with high youth suicide rates in northern Saskatchewan. Rebekah Lesko reports.

Saskatchewan’s children and youth advocate is calling on both the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action to deal with high youth suicide rates in the province.

The province has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the country, with 11 per cent of youth in Grades 7 to 12 attempting suicide at least once.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan’s suicide crisis among First Nations youth

It is even higher among First Nations youth.

The suicide rate is six times higher for First Nations boys than non-First Nations boys between the ages of 10 and 19, and 26 times higher for First Nation girls than non-First Nations girls.

Six girls between the ages of 11 and 14 took their lives in October 2016 and Corey O’Soup said dealing with the growing youth suicide crisis was his first priority after being named Saskatchewan’s children and youth advocate in November 2016.

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“Our office is raising alarm bells regarding the high rate of suicide amongst the Indigenous children and youth in this province,” O’Soup stated in his special report on the youth suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan that was released Tuesday.

“The voices of the youth … reflect the extreme urgency with which these young people require substantial help.”

READ MORE: Indigenous suicide report calls on feds to provide supports after hours and on weekends

O’Soup met with 264 Indigenous youth to find the underlying reasons for the high suicide rate and to make recommendations

“Several themes regarding these (serious) challenges emerged from the voices of the youth,” O’Soup said.

“What is striking about these themes is the reflection of the raw, yet honest accounts of how these young people see the issue of suicide due to their direct and indirect experiences with it.”

Among the themes O’Soup heard from the youth were the impact of bullying and cyberbullying, the lack of emotional support and the impact of substance misuse.

READ MORE: Northern Saskatchewan once again struggling with youth suicide

He also said the youth were concerned with the lack of physical safety, a lack of activities and the impact on emotional and mental wellness.

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“They are calling for a stop to bullying and substance misuse, and increased positive support, physical safety, and meaningful activities for youth,” O’Soup said.

“Improving the mental health system to make it more accessible and applicable to youth was also identified as requiring action.”

“To prevent youth suicide, a holistic approach addressing all of these areas is necessary.”

WATCH BELOW: Coverage of the youth suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan

O’Soup is calling on the Saskatchewan government to work with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to support a Saskatchewan First Nations suicide prevention strategy.

He said that should include the perspective of the youth, involve partnerships, where needed, with health, education and social services ministries, and receive any needed financial support.

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READ MORE: FSIN developing Indigenous suicide prevention strategy

O’Soup also wants the provincial government to work with the Métis Nation to support the implementation of the existing Métis youth suicide prevention strategy.

He is also calling on the government of Canada to support both initiatives along with fully implementing Jordan’s Principle to deal with inequities faced by Indigenous youth.

Jordan’s Principle was adopted by the House of Commons in 2007 to ensure First Nations children do not experience delays, disruptions or denials of health services to which they have a right, and is intended to ensure they are not caught up in a jurisdictional dispute.

It was created to honour Jordan River Anderson, who died in hospital while the federal and Manitoba governments argued over who would pay for his at-home care.

O’Soup also wants the Saskatchewan government to formally adopt those principles.

“The federal and provincial governments must be held to account in their commitment to bring about the change required to undo past damage done by government to Indigenous peoples. This will be paramount so that children are not left suffering or dying waiting for help,” O’Soup stated.

“Our Indigenous children and youth deserve nothing less.”

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The Saskatchewan government said the province accepts all of O’Soup’s recommendations.

Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreitt said officials are already working on some of the issues like partnering with Indigenous groups and getting mental health staff into schools.