‘I want us to save lives’: $1.4M Edmonton suicide prevention plan aims to help desperate citizens

Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen shares struggle many men face to be a “real man”
WATCH ABOVE: While speaking about suicide prevention, Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen touches on the struggle many men face in a society that values stoicism over being vulnerable, and how societal pressures can prevent depressed men from seeking help.

Three out of every four suicides in Alberta are men, and it’s hoped a first-of-its-kind initiative in Edmonton will bring together local agencies and the province to address and prevent further deaths.

The “Suicide Prevention Implementation Plan” presented to city council’s Community and Public Services Committee on Wednesday would focus on three areas over three years: increased awareness and education, improved accessibility to a continuum of services and addressing the needs of higher-risk populations.

“We want to see this make a change,” said Councillor Scott McKeen, who has been open about having depression in his early adult years and even considering suicide.

Edmonton’s High Level Bridge safety barriers.
Edmonton’s High Level Bridge safety barriers. Morris Gamblin, Global News

McKeen said the discussion stemmed from debates surrounding the High Level Bridge suicide prevention barriers.

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READ MORE: Suicide attempts on High Level Bridge down 50 per cent since barriers installed

“The barriers weren’t the full answer. The full answer was to look much deeper into causes and conditions in the city that were leading to some startling numbers of people taking their own lives.”

To fund the plan, city council will be asked to approve an increase in the budget of $1.4 million, spread over three years, to when council updates the 2018 budget this spring.

“In the realm of the city budget, it’s not a lot of money — but it’s still a lot of money — and we want to see the dial get moved here,” McKeen said.

The funds would go to five core areas: public awareness specific to suicide prevention, training and capacity building, evaluation, operational funding for committees and expansion of men’s support services – something McKeen said is sorely needed.

READ MORE: Canadian farmers open up about mental health: ‘They’re not the only ones’

He said too many men suffer in silence because they are led to believe seeking help is emasculating.

“Men continue — I think even emerging generations of men — to be taught about what ‘real men’ look like. And ‘real men’ are successful in realms like sports, and they are successful in business, and they carry on without complaint, and they are unbreakable. And so under that template, if you’re feeling somewhat broken, it can be really hard to say, ‘I’m really feeling depressed,’ or ‘My anxiety levels are through the roof,’ or ‘I think I’m drinking too much,’ or whatever it is — it’s really hard for men to reach out,” McKeen said.

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WATCH: Suicide is the leading cause of deaths by injury in Edmonton. Now, advocates are urging city council to help save lives. Sarah Kraus reports, but a note, some parts of this story may be disturbing to viewers.

Advocates come together in Edmonton to develop suicide prevention strategy
Advocates come together in Edmonton to develop suicide prevention strategy

According to Alberta Health Services, 214 people died by suicide in the Edmonton area in 2015, which is more than double the number of people killed in car crashes during that same time. Of the reported number of people who died by suicide, 148 were men and 66 were women. McKeen said society finds it more acceptable for women to be vulnerable and seek help – sometimes.

“You know, I worry about women in executive positions nowadays and having to pretend to fit into that old psychology that men unfortunately got caught up in.

“I think we have a lot of work to do — men aren’t going to change overnight. It’s the responsibility of all of us — moms and sisters and grandmothers and everybody — to also work with men and tell them that it’s okay for them to be open and vulnerable with their feelings. But it’s going to take a lot of work.”

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According to city data in “Living Hope: A Community Plan to Prevent Suicide” report, middle-aged men have the highest suicide death, where an average 75 per cent of those who die by suicide are men, primarily between the ages of 40 and 59.

READ MORE: Why men are more likely to die by suicide and how to help someone at risk

Other high-risk groups include people in the LGBTQ2+ community, Indigenous people, individuals living with a mental illness or addiction, survivors of suicide and first responders, who are also at risk due to higher rates of post-traumatic stress.

McKeen said society needs to shed the stigma surrounding suicide and be kind to people who are struggling.

“I want us to save lives of people who are that desperate, but I have some empathy for someone who has reached that point and has been unable to find relief.

“We have to try and bring them relief, because mental illness, or mental health issues, is a potentially fatal illness, and we need to remember that.”

There were more than 2,000 suicide attempt-related emergency department visits in 2016.

READ MORE: Facebook to detect and report potential suicide cases

The Suicide Prevention Implementation Plan was developed by a committee made up of people from the city, the province, Edmonton police, Alberta Health Services, the United Way, the Canadian Mental Health Association-Edmonton Region, post-secondary institutions and community organizations.

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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 for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.