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Parents of Saskatchewan suicide victims feel offers to help are being ignored

Family members display photos of loved ones lost to suicide at the Saskatchewan legislative building. Connor O'Donovan / Global News

Family members of several Saskatchewan suicide victims say they want to help improve mental health care in the province.

They say, though, that offers to government to provide insight have gone unanswered, which compelled them to bring the stories of their loved ones directly to the legislature Tuesday.

Marilyn Irwin, whose son MacRae May passed away in 2018, says she reached out to the Ministry of Health with an offer to provide insight after the Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act was passed at the end of April last year.

The Saskatchewan NDP private member’s bill required the province to “establish a provincial strategy for suicide prevention” in part by consulting with non-governmental organizations and entities.

Irwin says, though, that all she received form the ministry was a response saying it had forwarded her information “to the appropriate branch for consideration”.

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“I wanted some sort of response, even if was just to say they’d already spoken to someone,” said Irwin.

“Instead I received no response. It’s not so much that I feel left out. As a parent I feel like the issue is being brushed aside or that it’s not important.”

Marilyn Irwin holds a photo of her son MacRae, whom she says was battling substance use disorder and left behind two sons. Connor O'Donovan / Global News

Wanda and Chris Ball also spoke at the legislature Tuesday about their son Kye, who died in 2017 at the age of 16 in Indian Head.

They’ve since campaigned to raise awareness about mental health issues and to call for improvements to mental health supports. They also say that they’ve reached out to their local MLA, Don McMorris, to offer their perspectives but have not heard back from him on the matter.

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The family members came to the legislature as guests of the Saskatchewan NDP mental health critic Doyle Vermette. Vermette called on the government Monday to strike a bipartisan committee to examine the issue which would consult people like Irwin and the Bells.

“Let’s make sure there’s not barriers and hurdles for families, let’s make sure we’re hearing what the experts are saying,” Vermette said.

“Let’s listen to families, let’s listen to leaders, and front-line workers who can give good suggestions. Let’s look at other jurisdictions and make some recommendations.”

The government, though, struck down Vermette’s motion.

Chris and Wanda Ball hold pictures of their son Kye, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 16. Connor O'Donovan / Global News

Vermette has risen during question period several times this spring to ask the government what it’s doing to prevent suicides, often referencing his 2021 private member’s bill while doing so.

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In response, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley has typically touted his government’s Pillars For Life suicide prevention plan, which was launched in 2020.

On Tuesday he said the plan includes input from multiple ministries, the SHA, community organizations, patients and families.

“That’s some of the work already underway,” Hindley said.

“We’d offer, in addition to the families this committee has already heard from … to facilitate for any of these families to speak to the committee.”

He added in question period scrums that family members like those that visited the legislature could contact their MLAs if they wish to share insight.

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Irwin said Tuesday evening, though, that nobody from the government has contacted her yet with an offer.

“I would accept talking to anyone who asks. The first step is to bring awareness and to talk to families. It’s a terrible journey,” she said.

She added that on May 2 she reached out to her local MLA, Ken Cheveldayoff, and received only a “report from the legislature” in response on May 13.

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“My MLA won’t won’t acknowledge me. The funny thing is he’s acknowledged me in the past but he wouldn’t call or email me now.”

In response, Cheveldayoff acknowledged he’s “met with Marilyn in the past any time she has asked to meet with me”.

“I’ve been more than willing to meet with her and I tried to find her in the legislature yesterday but I wasn’t able to but I’m happy to meet with her again.”

Cheveldayoff added he’s spoken to Minister Hindley about Marilyn’s story.

According to the Saskatchewan coroner data, 204 people are confirmed to have died from suicide in Saskatchewan in 2021.  That’s the third highest total in 15 years.

In 2020, when Pillars for Life was introduced, 199 people died.

So far this year, the coroner is reporting 34 deaths by suicide.

Click to play video: 'Two year anniversary of Sask. government’s suicide prevention plan'
Two year anniversary of Sask. government’s suicide prevention plan

 

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