Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.)
|| That the House agree that suicide is more than a personal tragedy, but is also a serious public health issue and public policy priority; and, further, that the House urge the government to work cooperatively with the provinces, territories, representative organizations from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, and other stakeholders to establish and fund a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which among other measures would promote a comprehensive and evidence-driven approach to deal with this terrible loss of life.
Madam Speaker, I think all of us in the House will recognize and understand that suicide is something that has touched all of us in one way or the other, either as family members or as friends. What we have also come to realize more and more is that this issue can no longer be regarded simply as one of a personal tragedy, which it undoubtedly is, but it also needs to be recognized as a political issue in the sense that it is an issue that the public needs to take notice of. The good news in all of this is that, if we take notice of it and take action, there are actually things we can do to reduce the number of people who lose their lives in this very tragic way.
The statistics, frankly, are overwhelming in the industrial world. We have a relatively high suicide rate in Canada. We are the only modern industrial country that does not have a national strategy to reduce the level of suicide, to save lives in a very significant way.
I think Canadians would be surprised to learn some of the statistics. The fact that over the last 30 years at least 100,000 Canadians have taken their own life, which is a truly remarkable number.
Today, the president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association told us that around the world last year nearly one million people took their own lives. We have developed this capacity as societies to take statistics and to get the numbers but it is important for us as a country to take the steps that will make a difference.
Clearly, if we demonstrate the political will to do something, we can find solutions. For example, non-partisan discussions were held in Quebec and people agreed that the number of young people taking their own lives was far too high and that it was completely unacceptable. The province decided to do something. Quebec insisted that the topic be discussed in schools in order to open the dialogue, fight the stigma and ensure that no subject would be taboo.
We must do everything we can to encourage youth to talk about their emotional health. It should be noted that in Quebec, the youth suicide rate has dropped dramatically in the past 10 years. However, the rest of Canada has not had the same kind of success and within federal jurisdiction we are seeing a completely unacceptable suicide rate among veterans, former soldiers and aboriginals—all in a society known for its compassion and openness.
I hope we can all agree that a good society is, among other things, a place where people care about each other. It is a place where, quite simply, we care about what happens to ourselves, we care about what happens to our families, we care about what happens to our friends. However, our compassion does not end at the end of our garden. Our compassion extends to our neighbours. Our understanding of what we in Canada face has to include the fact that there are a great many Canadians who today are in turmoil. Today, this day, as many as 10 people will take their own lives. We could all through a bit of imagination think about who those people are.
I think of a young girl living on a native reserve. Perhaps she has been abused as a child. Perhaps she is living in a house where there are as many as 10, 12 or 15 people sharing a room. She goes to school and on the computer at school she sees a very different world. She sees a world of wealth. She sees a world of opportunity. She sees a world of affluence. She looks around her community and she sees the opposite. She asks herself, “Where is the hope? What hope do I have?”.
I think of a young boy who discovers in his early adolescence that he is gay. He realizes that his sexual identity is not that of the majority of people in his classroom. He sees himself in a different way and is looking to find the ways in which he can be as much a person as the person sitting next to him at school. Because he is seen as different, he is bullied. Perhaps one of his classmates starts making fun of him on the Internet, starts singling him out.
I think of the young teenagers who are in turmoil for all kinds of reasons, all of the biological and hormonal and other changes that are happening and the bewildering world in which they live and in which they have to show themselves to be okay. They are not allowed to be anything other than okay. Perhaps they live in a house where it is hard for them to say, “I'm not okay”.
I think of the veterans who come back from the trauma of the battlefield in Afghanistan who are never allowed to show weakness on the battlefield, who are never allowed to show a moment of vulnerability. When they return, they find a world where they do not know how to be vulnerable. They do not know how to deal with the world in which they are now living, the mundane everyday world in which most of us live every day.
We cannot explain all of the circumstances.
The number of seniors, for example, who take their own lives is remarkably high, maybe for reasons that have to do with their loneliness, with their vulnerability, with their having felt that they have lived a life and now cannot find meaning or purpose to where they are.
Mental health issues affect one in five Canadians, yet it is an issue that is rarely discussed. We have fundraising drives for breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart conditions and all of the other physical maladies, as well we should, but we do not have a run for suicide. We do not do a walk for schizophrenia very often. We do not talk about depression a great deal. We let people suffer in silence. We pretend that it is not a problem.
We have made progress. It is not as bad as it was in days gone by. We have changed the legal structures. We have accepted as a society and have learned how to celebrate sexual identity. The Prime Minister gave a wonderful speech in the House, a statement of reconciliation with the first nations people. We have made some of the steps that we need to make to begin to create a climate of hope, a climate of mutual care, a climate of love, but our actions do not follow the words.
The motion that is before the House today is one which says let us talk about this. Let us have a conversation where we discuss frankly and candidly what should not be happening in this country.
Gay kids should not be bullied in school. Schools need to learn how to help kids celebrate who they are whatever their sexual identity. We should celebrate who we are. That is the meaning of dignity. If we are a society that believes in dignity, compassion and care, every child has to have pride in that identity and pride in who he or she is. And it goes well beyond childhood.
Having talked about the motion with some colleagues and having decided to put it forward as an opposition day motion, I hope we will have the support of the whole House. I hope we will have a good conversation today. I hope this will be an opportunity for the House to show itself as it can be when we want to talk about issues that are important. We are behind the public. The public is ahead of us.
Today I held a press conference with Stephanie Richardson, whose daughter took her own life last year in circumstances that are well known in the Ottawa area and which brought forward an incredible outpouring of emotion, compassion and feeling in the community. That family has done a remarkable thing in turning a terrible tragedy into a moment where they can perhaps teach people what this is all about.
We need to do this as a Parliament. The federal government runs the fifth largest health care system in the country. We are responsible constitutionally for aboriginal people, and we are responsible for veterans and for our armed forces. The federal government can be a leader in this field, but it has not been. People say to me, “What about your party when you were in government?” It did not do enough. Nobody can say from a partisan perspective, “We have done all we can”.
Speaking very personally, having lost some friends to suicide, I can tell the House about the sense of bewilderment one feels. What else could I have done? What else could I have said? What else could I have seen?
We know there are strategies that work. We know that if we start to talk about it, it makes a difference. We know that if we begin to create the architecture of support for people and for families, we know if we address the underlying mental health and social and economic issues, we will in fact reduce the level of suicide. We know that we can find a way to address this question, and we know that it is within our realm of responsibility to do so.
I am one of those people who thinks the national government has the responsibility to work with the provinces in a co-ordinated fashion, not to dictate to anyone, because seven out of the ten provinces already have developed strategies. However, none of them are sufficiently funded. None of them have enough grounding in this national conversation which needs to happen.
On behalf of the Liberal Party, supported by my colleague from Vancouver, I have moved this motion. However, we do not claim any monopoly of virtue on the motion. We do not claim that we somehow have achieved a breakthrough that others are not party to. There is no reason why any member of Parliament should feel that this is being put forward in some kind of a partisan way. It is not.
Yes, there will be questions about what could be done, and there will be issues about how we can allocate the funds we need to make sure the conversation happens, but we also understand there are at times issues that go beyond politics.
I have often wondered why it is that governments have such difficulty in accepting that mental illness is every bit as much an illness as is a physical illness. My own modest assessment is that there are two reasons.
The first reason is that there is a stigma and taboo with respect to mental illness that is still with us. We are not as deep and dark in the dark ages or Victorian times perhaps as before, but we still have to recognize and admit that it is not seen in the same way and it is not discussed in the same way as it should be. We have made some changes, but we need to make more.
The second reason is that people feel, and governments reflect this, that it is an illness but it is not like a physical illness, that it is something different. People feel there is not a whole lot they can do, that it is not something that can be easily or readily solved.
This ignores a very basic fact. We have made huge progress in the treatment of mental illness. Conditions that were a guarantee of a lifetime of incarceration as recently as 50 or 60 years ago are being treated today very effectively with medication and treatment that actually works.
We are behind in research. We are behind in funding. We are behind in support. We are behind in housing. We are behind in all the things that need to be done to integrate all of these services together. These things are solvable. These are matters of political will. These are not conditions which we cannot do anything about.
Over 120 years ago a very famous French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, wrote a text called Le Suicide.
This gentleman, one of sociology's pioneers, made an important observation. He said that an event such as suicide reflects a lack of solidarity within society. Until then, suicide was considered a personal act that had no social explanation. But Durkheim said that, on the contrary, it could be explained.
The love that each of us must show our neighbours is a permanent sign of our compassion and what it means to be a citizen and be part of a good society.
A good society is marked by how people care for each other and by solidarity. We are talking about what we owe each other and how our collective failure to reflect that sense of solidarity and connection in our actions contributes to the sense of alienation and bewilderment that is a prelude to a person's decision to commit suicide.
Not all of the explanations are easy. Many of them continue to baffle people. We all have friends who have died in this terrible way and we wonder what could have caused them to do so.
What we do know is there are things we can do. It is not a hopeless situation. We have to take what my grandmother used to call “the human footsteps”. Every day we need to move forward by taking the human footsteps that will lead us to the progress we must make as Canadians and as a society. This is a frontier we must cross together. We need to better understand this world of anger, self-anger, of violence that implodes or explodes. We need to share that understanding. We need to address it. We need to take the steps as a society to make a difference.
Hence, we need a strategy that will prevent people from taking their own lives, one that will allow them to return to living full, happy and productive lives. That is what it means to live in a country where we care for one another.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to the importance this government places on mental health of Canadians and in particular on the prevention of suicide.
What is the face of suicide? Suicide is preventable. Many of those who attempt suicide want to live, but are overcome with grief or emotional pain and cannot find any other way to handle a situation that has become impossible to bear.
Most people who commit suicide give warning signs or hints of their intentions. Community-based organizations across our country help people in their jurisdictions learn how to recognize these signs and how to respond to them. Four out of five people who die by suicide have made at least one previous attempt. Suicide occurs across all age, economic, social and ethnic boundaries.
Statistics Canada's 2007 figures regarding suicide in Canada show it as one of the top 10 leading causes of death in our country, accounting for over 3,700 deaths. Males die by suicide more than three times as often as females, but females are three times more likely to attempt it than males. As well, the survey revealed that over 14% of Canadians have thought about suicide and more than 3% of Canadians have attempted suicide in their lifetimes.
Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest among elderly males, the current impact of suicide on society shows its increasing frequency among our youth. Worldwide it is now one of the top five leading causes of death among young people aged 15 to 34. In Canada in 2005, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 15 to 34, second only to accidents and unintentional injuries.
We are keenly aware that suicide rates are higher among certain populations, including aboriginal youth and Inuit living in northern Canada. That is why this government is investing in programs that address this important issue, such as the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.
Too many Canadian families have to deal with the anguish of losing a loved one to suicide. There is the social impact of losing a loved one to suicide as well. Suicide and suicide attempts have significant impacts on individuals, families and all of our communities. We can also see some similarities between mental health and suicide, as many of the risk and protective factors of suicide are the same as the problems and illnesses associated with mental health. Both have stigma attached to them that tend to curb open discussions and prevention efforts.
Suicide is caused by a number of medical and social factors including mental disorders, family violence and social isolation. These factors increase the likelihood of poor mental health which in turn can lead to suicidal behaviour. Because suicide has many faces and can impact society in a variety of ways, its prevention must involve all sectors including governments, non-government organizations, academia and the private sector.
There are many levels of government that work in various ways with suicide prevention. Several federal organizations including Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Veterans Affairs, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and the Canadian Forces are working to address suicide and mental health issues.
In the delivery of health care in their own jurisdictions provinces and territories are also tailoring programs and services that respond to the needs of their citizens. Collectively we need to promote positive mental health, intervene early and prevent risk factors for mental health problems which often lead to suicide and suicide attempts.
I am very proud that this government is taking leadership and fostering the partnerships with our multiple stakeholders. For example, in September 2010, the hon. Minister of Health, along with provincial and territorial ministers of health, endorsed the declaration on prevention and promotion. Through this endorsement our governments recognized positive mental health as a foundation for optimal overall health and well-being throughout a person's life. In addition to this agreement, the work of the federal, provincial and territorial Public Health Network places a priority on mental health promotion and mental illness prevention.
One of our government's accomplishments, one of the health sectors that I am particularly proud of, is the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Collaborating with governments, academia, business and other organizations to mobilize leadership and action is central to the commission's mandate.
The commission is presently working on a national mental health strategy. This strategy is expected to speak to suicide prevention as part of a comprehensive approach to mental health promotion and mental illness prevention in our country.
The Government of Canada also funds the commission to address the stigma associated with mental illness through their Opening Minds campaign. This initiative is meant to enhance the public's education through the mental health first aid initiative.
Through the mental health first aid strategy is a belief that it is critical to deal with physical emergencies quickly, but it is just as important not to neglect a mental health emergency. Mental health first aid refers to the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
For over four years the program has taught Canadians how to respond to mental health emergencies, enabling them to better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a colleague.
To date, well over 42,000 people have been trained across Canada. The program is available to anyone interested in learning mental health first aid, including employees such as human resource managers, teachers, counsellors, transit workers, nurses and police officers.
This initiative does not teach people how to be therapists, but it does teach how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help and guide a person towards appropriate professional help.
A basic instructor course is also offered, designed to equip those who want to train others in mental health first aid. An instructor course is specifically designed for people who work directly with our youth. Originating in Australia, the program has 505 instructors across Canada and is now available in 17 countries.
I am pleased to have the opportunity today to recognize some of the important and significant programs and activities in the country that are making a real difference in the lives of Canadians. Notably, several provinces and territorial governments, such as Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick, have established strategies to promote mental health and prevent mental illness and suicide.
The Nunavut suicide prevention strategy outlines plans and a common direction for the suicide prevention efforts of communities, organizations and governments in Nunavut. Demonstrating the need for and the value of working together, the strategy is a result of a partnership between the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Another important example is New Brunswick's provincial suicide prevention program. Connecting to Life is a strategy that coordinates suicide prevention activities and intervention services in the province. Community action, continuous education and inter-agency collaboration are central goals of this program.
The Alberta suicide prevention strategy is a 10-year plan that includes actions targeted both at the general populations and at identified priority groups.
In British Columbia, suicide prevention forms a key part of the province's 10-year plan to address mental health and substance abuse.
The government also recognizes, in addition to the provincial and territorial initiatives, the important contribution made by civil organizations such as the Centre for Suicide Prevention. The centre provides resources and training, including workshops and online courses, for professionals, caregivers and community members.
As well, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention plays a role in facilitating information sharing, advocating for policy development and supporting excellence in research and in service. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention is currently in the middle of its three-day national conference.
A broad array of community organizations also support individuals and families dealing with suicide and mental health problems. Notably, the Canadian Mental Health Association is a national network, with local and provincial branches carrying out public education and providing local support to individuals with mental health problems. Their mandate is to develop a mental health strategy for Canada, and through this the creation of opportunities such that the protective factors are enhanced and the risk factors of suicide are diminished.
There is a belief that by doing this, good mental health can be fostered and, wherever possible, the onset of mental health problems and illnesses can be prevented, thus reducing the number of suicides.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada works with key stakeholders and partners such as the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to address the issue of suicide. The work includes a focus on target populations that have high levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide. It also pays particular attention to youth suicide and suicide in the senior population. It works together with families and caregivers in recognition of the impact of suicide on families and communities.
The commission, whose members are currently developing their strategy, aims to reduce the number of suicides by improving suicide prevention training for front-line workers such as teachers, police and family doctors and by reducing mortality rates for people living with mental health problems and illnesses.
Through our government's funding, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has established a knowledge exchange centre to provide all sectors, stakeholders and the public with the information they need to address mental health and the risk factors that lead to mental health problems, such as suicide. It is working with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to enhance its work in areas such as establishing community practices; developing tools and resources for health care professionals, including crisis centre staff; overcoming challenges and barriers; and providing a space where health professionals are able to offer each other support.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada recognizes that suicide is a tragedy that leaves scars on families and communities.
There are many common risk factors. Over 90% of Canadians who die by suicide have experienced mental health problems and illnesses.
At a more fundamental level, our government also collects data on suicide through Statistics Canada. We use it to analyze and share information on mortality and morbidity, including figures on mental health in general.
The government also funds, along with the provinces and territories, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which produces reports on mental health and suicide-related topics.
Our government, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is pleased to support the work of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, along with other government-supported research. This leading-edge multidisciplinary team is making a significant contribution to the understanding of suicide and its risk factors.
Suicide is also an issue of global concern, and our government also monitors interesting developments at the international level in order to identify success stories that will further encourage and inspire our Canadian stakeholders at home. One particularly significant example is coming out of Scotland. Choose Life is a program in Scotland that has been implemented in a partnership with national and local bodies. This framework focuses on training and building skills while improving knowledge of good suicide prevention practices. It is similar to the Government of Canada's federal role in research and knowledge development and its related investments in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Statistics Canada.
Our government believes that the promotion of positive mental health and the prevention of health problems and illnesses are critical to suicide prevention. We also recognize the need to continue to share knowledge and information and to work collaboratively to make a difference in the mental health of Canadians and the prevention of suicide.
This is an important dialogue and an important issue, one that touches all of us and one in which we can all play a very important role.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.
I am very pleased to participate in the debate today on this very important motion. I thank the member for Toronto Centre for bringing forward this motion. New Democrats support this motion wholeheartedly and are glad there is a thoughtful debate taking place in the House of Commons today. We cannot always say that there is thoughtful debate. This is a very important issue and I know many members will contribute to the debate.
I listened very carefully to the comments by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and while I appreciate that he told the House what it is the Government of Canada has been involved in, I feel there was a lack of information. It seems to me that the debate today, particularly for the Government of Canada, is an opportunity for some reflection, not just about what it thinks it is doing but about what is not being done.
I did not hear that in the parliamentary secretary's speech, which was disappointing because today all sides of the House are willing to hear that kind of debate. We want to hear from the government where it thinks it is not doing enough and we want it to ask the House to support a greater effort toward what needs to be done.
Presumably, we are having this debate because there is a great sense by the Government of Canada and all of us that there is a crisis. The member for Toronto Centre made the point that it is not just the government but all parties. We have not done enough on this issue. I wanted to begin my remarks that way because I am hoping that other government members will be more reflective and make part of the debate what the Government of Canada, from its point of view, needs to be doing in a better way.
One thing I would draw attention to are the underlying risk factors. The fact is that many studies have been done on the prevalence of suicide in groups that are at high risk. We have heard some of that in the debate today, such as aboriginal youth in the north in small and remote communities, but there are other demographics and populations that are at risk, like the LGBT community, veterans and seniors. There are many studies being put forward.
It seems to me that we do not pay enough attention to some of the underlying risk factors. The fact is that suicide is preventable if one understands what is taking place, whether it is on a personal level in terms of someone who may be suffering from depression and mental illness or someone who has gone through some sort of trauma and tragic circumstances, but there are also bigger societal, socio-economic and social conditions that are in effect.
We have seen it many times in our country. How many times have we turned to a particular channel on TV and heard the most tragic story of a string of suicides taking place in some small community? Surely, that has to be setting off alarm bells that there social conditions in this country to do with poverty, isolation, lack of educational opportunities, overcrowding in housing, and a lack of the basic necessities of human dignity in life. Surely, these are assessments and risk factors that we should be looking at.
Another one would be stigma. If one looks at lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, we know they are at a much higher risk for attempting suicide than heterosexual youth, 28% versus 4% according to the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia. These statistics are very alarming.
The motion talks about a strategy and setting up a fund. We have to understand, grapple, and come to terms with some of the underlying risk factors that are operating within our country.
We think of Canada as this incredibly wealthy place, a place of opportunity, a place of incredible resources, great cities, a great environment, and yet we have these very alarming statistics. We have to ask ourselves why it is that we have a society where the gap is widening between people who are doing exceptionally well and people who are being left behind, people who are living in poverty. I hope that in today's debate we can focus attention on some of those issues.
My colleague, the member for Halifax, recently tabled Bill C-297, An Act respecting a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. It is an excellent bill. The government would be well advised in supporting this motion to look at that bill and to incorporate the ideas that are in the bill. The bill clearly lays out the need to ensure there is access to mental health and substance abuse services and the need to reduce the stigma associated with using mental health and suicide related services.
The bill also talks about the need to establish national guidelines for best practices in suicide prevention and to work with communities to use culture specific knowledge to design appropriate policies and programs. That is a very important element. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a matter of understanding what is going on in a particular community, whether it be in a geographic sense or in a demographic sense, to understand those cultural specific risk factors and issues that are at play. The bill also talks about the need to coordinate professionals and organizations throughout the country in order to share information and research, and to support our health care professionals and our advocacy groups who work with individuals who are at risk of suicide.
I was on a Via Rail train a couple of days ago and picked up a magazine that was in the pocket in front of me. As I was looking through the magazine I was surprised to see a major feature about suicide. It focused on the risk of suicide as it affects students, particularly those who are in an environment where the stress of academic excellence produces an enormous amount of anxiety and possibly depression. This particular article focused on the number of deaths by suicide that had taken place at Queen's University. That is where I happened to be going to speak at a human rights conference.
I thought it was quite remarkable that in a Via Rail magazine there was a major article about suicide, particularly focusing on a population in our society that we often think is doing all right. They are the students who are motivated, who have all kinds of self-esteem, who are doing really well; they are the elite, the future of our society. It was quite shocking to read the stories of what had unfolded at just one post-secondary educational facility. It was quite shocking to read of the trauma and the impact of the tragedy, and the number of deaths that had taken place in the life of that particular university. I do not mean to single out Queen's because I know this happens elsewhere as well, but it just happened to be the focus of that article. It was truly shocking.
This brings to the attention of all of us that the issue of suicide as it relates to mental health and well-being is very prevalent. The statistics that we see, that 10 people every day commit suicide, are very alarming and shocking.
For those of us in the official opposition, the NDP members, we see this issue as a national priority. We are very happy that the member for Halifax has introduced a private member's bill. It is a very comprehensive bill that gives us the framework for what we need to do to bring forward a national strategy.
I am going to end by coming back to the Government of Canada. Let today be a day where we all participate in this debate and rather than only describe the problem, let us focus on what needs to be done.
Let the government members think about what they are not doing, what they have not been addressing. Why is it that so many aboriginal communities are living in third world conditions? Why is the suicide rate so high in small northern communities? Why is this an issue that affects our youth and the LGBT community? These are the things that we need to talk about in order to come up with an adequate national strategy.
Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Beauharnois—Salaberry, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver East for sharing her time with me. I would also like to say that the NDP will be supporting the Liberal motion regarding a national suicide prevention strategy, since this is a very urgent problem that needs to be addressed.
A national prevention strategy is essential, because it will save lives. To achieve that, however, we need to work together and provide the assistance that people who are suffering need. To ensure that all communities in Canada receive the care and attention they need, we must take a coordinated approach. Over the past 20 years, our society has become more aware of the complex issue of suicide. We now know that at-risk people usually feel isolated and are often suffering terribly. We also know more about the medical, social and economic causes of suicide.
In the 1980s and 1990s, some programs started up in various provinces and they have produced tangible results. Since 1998, Quebec has had a provincial suicide prevention strategy with specific funding. The help centres work together and form a provincial network. There is also a provincial emergency help line and a hotline devoted exclusively to young people, called Kids Help Phone. We now have suicide prevention training for health professionals and the provincial government is funding research in this field. Youth centres, the CLSCs, NGOs and other partners are now working together to offer people at risk the necessary help and aftercare.
Before adopting this strategy, the suicide rate in Quebec was one of the highest in the industrialized world. The suicide rate dropped from 18% in 1981 to 14% in 2009. That is a clear improvement, but much more progress remains to be achieved. The data show that an effective strategy, involving all the players, can be fruitful.
Unfortunately, a number of our country's isolated communities still do not have access to these programs. That is why it is important to focus on local and provincial initiatives and come up with a national strategy to ensure that no one is forgotten. Although suicide is an individual action, it has to be viewed as a public health issue. Quality of life, one's social network and the help available can have a positive impact on a person in distress, if those resources are accessible, of course.
Without help, people in distress are isolated and left alone with their suicidal thoughts. There is a great risk that the person will go through with it. Family violence and drug and alcohol use can aggravate the state of the person in distress. Things such as trouble finding a place to live, a broken heart, failure, rejection, financial problems or any other stressful event that causes anxiety or sadness can trigger suicidal ideas. That is when the straw breaks the camel's back.
The incidence of suicide is higher in some groups. People with mental health problems, the homeless, seniors or youth, for example, are at higher risk. In the case of the homeless, their distress is aggravated by their miserable living conditions. These people often cannot access health services because of their precarious social situation and the fact that they do not have an address. Homelessness remains a phenomenon that is not well understood and the homeless are often treated with disdain. For that reason any initiative to help these people must be applauded.
I would like to point out that, on October 21, outdoor vigils will be held in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which is in my riding, and throughout Quebec. The Nuit des sans-abri is organized by the organization P.A.C.T. de rue. These events can help us understand what the homeless experience, their distress, and also their needs and rights, which are often overlooked.
Other groups are also considered to be more susceptible to suicidal thoughts, including aboriginal youth. This has been mentioned several times today. The community of Akwesasne, located in my riding, knows all too well what I am speaking about. In the past 18 months, four young people have taken their own lives. For a community of 15,000 people, this loss of human life is a tragedy. The youth of this Mohawk community often struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Some of them steal prescription drugs, or are recruited by criminal gangs to run drugs to be sold on the black market.
Mental health services are available in the Akwesasne community, but not all young people will accept help. The reserve's leaders point out the importance of providing services that are tailored to the reality of these young people and would like to set up a help line for aboriginal youth, because there is none at present.
In addition, the adolescent treatment centre in Akwesasne, which provides care for young people with addictions, is still waiting for federal government funding so that staff can continue their work with youth. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that these young people receive help that respects their cultural and spiritual identity. In general, these young people are at a higher risk of suicidal ideation. Suicide is the leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24. Adolescence is a critical time involving significant changes. It is a time when young people are building their personal identity and self-esteem. They are experiencing peer pressure and feel pressured to succeed in school. They are also sometimes the victims of schoolyard bullying or domestic violence.
Mental health problems often become apparent during adolescence. The role of psychologists, psychoeducators, social workers, street workers, teachers and others is key in identifying the warning signs. These teachers and health professionals must be trained and given the financial support they need to know how to act and react when faced with the distress of these young people.
It is also important to reduce the stigmatization of young people with suicidal thoughts and behaviour. There are still too many taboos, and people do not dare to speak out about their unhappiness. Consulting mental health professionals and identifying themselves as someone who needs help is not an obvious course of action for them because there is still a lot of prejudice in this regard. Nevertheless, we must encourage these young people to talk to the appropriate people. This will show that they are trying to improve their situation and that they want to regain balance in their lives. That is what we must encourage. Help must therefore be available when people need it.
The bill introduced by my colleague from Halifax addresses a number of aspects of suicide, including prevention. The bill would provide for better training of professionals in the field, better media coverage, and support for research to prevent suicide and better identify risk groups. The bill focuses on collaboration with community organizations and stakeholders in the first nations who already have expertise in the area. It encourages the communities, provinces and cities to work together to prevent suicide. The bill also recognizes the importance of changing attitudes, breaking taboos and being able to speak openly about suicide.
Furthermore, for all of these reasons, countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and the United States have all established national strategies. Canada is one of the few industrialized countries that does not yet have such a strategy. But the clock is ticking. Every day, as we have heard many times, 10 people commit suicide in this country. Every year, 3,500 people choose to end their lives. We must take action. A national strategy would allow us to prioritize listening, helping and offering compassion, and to help those who are suffering across the country.
This is a critical issue, and the elected members of this House must stand united and adopt the motion moved by the Liberals.
We have a responsibility to address this problem. We also have the means to help people in distress. Now it is up to the government to show its political will to take positive and concrete action and get involved in developing and implementing this national suicide prevention strategy that is so crucial and so urgent. We can choose to build a more positive and just society. Let us do it.
Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Etobicoke North.
The motion today frames the issue of suicide as more than a personal tragedy but as a serious public health issue. That, perhaps, is what we want to talk about. I do not think anyone in this Parliament today would say that suicide is not important. I do not think anyone would say that this is not a real issue that we should all care about. I think we all do.
What we are trying to talk about is that this is something that requires the same kind of initiative that was undertaken when we looked at the Canadian partnership against cancer, which was to encourage, fund and support coordination of cancer care in Canada.
Cancer is a physical disease but perhaps the federal government could bring about a supporting and coordinating structure. Given that suicide crosses every age group, ethnic group, gender and socio-economic lines, it is a number one issue. When we know that it is the third leading cause of death for adult males in Canada, we need to look upon this as an urgent and a serious public health problem that requires this kind of federal leadership to bring it together.
The thing about suicide is that it has been hidden in the shadows for far too long. Everyone is afraid to talk about suicide. The reason is that people believe that if we talk about it, it will encourage others to commit suicide. Everyone talks about the contagion of suicide, the copycat of suicide, but we well know that when we talk about it and discuss the suicidal ideation, the idea, the thought of suicide crossed one's mind at some point in time is not unusual.
In fact, 42% of adults say that the thought of suicide has crossed their mind within the last five days. We know this is something we think about. However, what are the multiple causes that come to bear on this issue that we need to look at and pull together?
Many provinces have anti-suicide strategies and some do not. The point is that this whole issue has been fragmented across the country. It depends on what weight certain provinces put on it, but if we can deal with cancer as a physical ailment, look at a pan-Canadian strategy for cancer and fund it federally, then we need to be able to talk about the fact that suicide needs to be treated in the same manner.
As a physician, it saddens me that I do not know enough about suicide. I have had patients who have committed suicide and patients who have attempted suicide. I sometimes felt powerless because I was not able to see the early warning signs and symptoms that I should have been able to recognize. We know that many people who are successful in committing suicide or who have attempted suicide are often people who, on the surface, seem to be successful and bubbly, people we would never think of.
We need to do a lot of work on this issue. With a pan-Canadian strategy, we could look at the issue of research. There are so many factors that lead to the issue of suicide.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is doing some work on this and it says that there may be some genetic factors. It may very well be that we need to look at this from a genome point of view. There may be some genetic components here.
Sometimes there may be an underlying mental illness or an underlying disability, whether it is a mental disability or not, where people feel that they cannot be normal. They do not well at school. Maybe they have dyslexia or a learning disability. They are afraid. They do not want to speak about it. They go through life feeling unnatural and abnormal.
The high rates, five times the normal rate of suicide in Canada, are among aboriginal youth and seven times more among Inuit youth. We see it five times more among people within the LGBT community, especially youth in the LGBT community.
We know that one part of the issue of suicide is the psychological component. It is the concept that if one is different, one must be ashamed of the difference. Sometimes it is the hopelessness of it all combined with bullying. We know that 350,000 episodes of bullying occur every month in this country, and some of it can lead to suicide.
We know that suicide is impulsive. We know, for instance, that somebody may be thinking about suicide for the biological, social or psychological reasons that cause suicide attempts to occur, but sometimes it is impulsive. Seventy per cent of Canadians who had thought about or attempted suicide say that they attempted suicide an hour after a trigger pushed them over the limit. Some 25% have said that within five minutes after a trigger pushed them over the limit, they actually attempted suicide.
I think the problem is that we do not see mental illness as a real problem. Unless it is a psychosis like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, there is a tendency to think that mental illness is an issue of personal will. It is a pejorative thing that one cannot cope or that it is psychological. The term “psychological” alone is pejorative. It means that a person is less capable of coping, and we know that is not true.
As I said before, we know there are biological, social and psychological factors. If we someone came to us, perhaps a friend, and said that when they ran or when something happened, they got a left-sided chest pain, we would tell them to go and see a doctor because it might be a sign of heart disease. However, when someone tells us that they are incapable of coping or when we see that they suffer from a mental problems or psychological issues, we think it is something to ignore and that those people have less will power than we do or are less able to cope with their problems. However, we know that this is not true.
If a person went to emergency as an attempted suicide, triage would cause them to be seen immediately, just as with a chest pain. The difference is that if the person with a chest pain had a cardiogram that showed an early sign of an infarction in the heart muscle, that person would be immediately admitted. They would be given a bed and follow-up. The follow-up would continue, and the person would have multiple tests.
However, a person who goes into hospital for attempted suicide is taken care of only in the sense that their stomach is pumped or whatever is needed to keep them alive is done, but there are no treatment beds, or very few. There is no place to send them. There are no referrals. We do not have enough health care professionals. Psychologists are not covered under the Canada Health Act, yet they are an essential part of this issue.
When we look at the problem of suicide, we need to look at how to link all these pieces to fit together. That is why we need federal leadership: to pull the pieces together.
For instance, we need to look at the education and training of the people who are the first line. In cases of youth suicide, we need to look at who a young person could meet, such as the school coach or school counsellor. Many are not trained to recognize the early signs and symptoms of suicide.
However, we know that if someone in a school commits suicide, it is important in terms of prevention to take action to deal with the bereavement process immediately and to talk about it. A professional is needed to talk with the young people in school to prevent those who are at high risk from committing suicide because of what happened to a class member or a friend of theirs. We know there is a high risk of that, not because these people are less capable or less able to deal with the trauma, but because we know there are some people who, for biological, sociological and other reasons, may be more at risk and feel that is the way to go.
These are the things we need to talk about. We need to talk about developing counselling in schools and developing an ability to deal with this in schools, as well as how we train family practitioners and public health nurses to recognize the early signs and symptoms.
For instance, today we had Mrs. Richardson talking about her daughter's suicide a year ago. This is a prime example.
Here was a bright, brilliant athlete, a girl who did well in school and seemed bubbly on the surface. What her mother said today in the press conference was really telling. She said, “I want us to talk about suicide every day in our homes, at the dinner table, in the malls, everywhere”. What I—
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I rise today in order to remember family and friends lost to suicide, to provide support to those who have experienced loss, and to remind those suffering that there is hope and there is caring and compassion in community.
I also rise to call on the government to develop a national suicide prevention strategy. Our children, parents and family members, our friends and colleagues, our clients and patients, our neighbours and people from all socio-economic, age, culture and gender groups cannot wait any longer.
Worldwide, almost one million people die from suicide annually. The global mortality rate is 16 per 100,000, meaning that there is one suicide death roughly every 40 seconds and that 3,000 people commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% globally.
No part of Canadian society is immune. Suicide affects all of us and remains among Canada's most serious public health issues, with a mortality rate of 15 per 100,000. In the past three decades, more than 100,000 Canadians have died by suicide. Every year in Canada, almost 4,000 people die by suicide.
Rates are even higher among specific groups. For example, the suicide rate for Inuit peoples living in northern Canada is between 60 and 75 per 100,000 people. Suicide rates for Inuit youth are staggeringly high, as much as 28 times the national average in the case of males aged 15 to 24. Other populations at an increased risk of suicide include youth, the elderly, inmates in correctional facilities, people with mental illness, and those who have previously attempted suicide.
Tragically, when someone dies by suicide, the pain does not end. It is merely transferred to family, friends and community. Those grieving require compassion, support and understanding to help minimize suicide's impact.
For far too long discussion of suicide involved secrecy, stigma and taboo. The secrecy must stop. We must confront the silence, stand up to stigma, and actively work to prevent suicide.
Suicide is a complex problem involving biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. Specific risk factors include mental disorders such as alcohol dependence, depression, personality disorders and schizophrenia, and physical illnesses such as cancer, HIV infection and neurological disorders.
We know that those at risk for suicide experience overwhelming emotional pain. They want and need help in reducing the pain so that they can go on to lead fulfilling lives. We must ensure that they get the help they need.
Let me raise the plight of many of our veterans, who are struggling when they come home, living with post-traumatic stress disorder and in some cases fighting for their lives.
Before I do, let me thank all our veterans, our World War II veterans and our Korean veterans, our Canadian Forces veterans and all our Canadian Forces in reserves. I thank them; I know each member of this House thanks them, and our country thanks them. There is no commemoration, praise or tribute that can truly match the enormity of their service and their sacrifice.
Veterans Affairs reports that the number of veterans experiencing some kind of operational stress injury, such as PTSD, has tripled in the past five years. According to data obtained through access to information requests, the suicide rate among Canada's soldiers may have doubled from 2006 to 2007, rising to a rate triple that of the general population.
I have had the enormous privilege of working with veterans across our country and I have heard their stories. Examples are a veteran living for 10 years in the bush; my receiving a suicide note from a veteran on a Sunday afternoon; having to find help and having to find the veteran lost in a snowstorm, because no psychiatrist appointment was coming for three months, despite a diagnosis of PTSD for years and years; not hearing from a veteran for weeks and waiting for him to re-emerge from the darkness of his basement; receiving a note from a veteran distraught because a young friend was found dead on the roadside and another dead in the basement. Both had simply stopped living. They had given up eating and taking their medication.
Here are just a few comments from our country's extraordinary heroes and their desperation: “We are all suffering and we need help. It is not only the guys we lose overseas; it is the guys we lose here to suicide. They may as well have died overseas. We have all contemplated it. The thoughts are relentless. When I contemplate suicide, it is relief. It means stopping the pain, no more fights with that. The question we ask ourselves is how can we leave and leave our family in a better position. Everyone else is better without us”.
From a physician who veterans call a guardian angel: “What we really need in place for these vets, we need to be able to refer them somewhere nearby where they can have continuous care. They are hurting and their families are hurting. Many wives have contacted me and really do not want to stay with them. They are afraid of them and for them”.
It is time we give unprecedented support to our wounded warriors especially those with PTSD and traumatic brain injury which has led too many of our veterans to taking their own lives. We must continue to make major investments, ending the stigmatization of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, improving outreach and suicide prevention, hiring and training more mental health councillors and treating more veterans than ever before. Every veteran needs to be assured that his or her nation will be there to help them stay strong. It is the morally right thing to do.
There are effective strategies and interventions for the prevention of suicide. For example, adequate prevention and treatment of alcohol, depression and substance abuse; restriction of access to common methods of suicide such as firearms or toxic substances like pesticides; and follow-up contact with those who have attempted suicide. However, there is a tremendous need to adopt multi-sectoral approaches including both health and non-health sectors; for example, education, justice, labour, police, politics and the media.
Many countries have developed national strategies to reduce suicide often with the expertise and leadership of Canadian experts. We must all ask why Canada has been so slow in moving forward on this pressing public health issue, so such delay never happens again.
Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy, an ongoing co-ordinated set of activities which will aim to reduce suicide by a specific amount by a given period. The strategy should be evidence-based, specific and subject to evaluation. Specific goals might include: the reduction of risk in key high risk groups, the promotion of mental well-being in the wider population, the reduction of the availability and lethality of suicide methods, the improvement of reporting of suicidal behaviour in the media, the promotion of research on suicide and suicide prevention, and the improvement of monitoring.
In closing, each suicide is an individual tragedy and the irrevocable loss to society. Suicide is devastating for families and other survivors; economically, psychologically and spiritually. For these reasons the government must make suicide prevention a health priority. No veteran should ever have to utter these words again: “I am a second generation serviceman. My son will never put on a uniform. I'm losing sleep. MPs should be losing sleep. PTSD has destroyed everything in my life. Dying hangs over me every day of my life”.
We as Canadians must end the silence, ease the suffering, and prevent others from experiencing such devastating loss.
Mr. Patrick Brown (Barrie, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the extraordinary member of Parliament for Brandon—Souris.
Suicide is a tragic event that affects far too many Canadian families. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Each year, several thousand Canadians lose their lives to suicide. The World Health Organization estimates that in Canada the rate of suicide is 15 for every 100,000 people. While suicide rates vary by age, gender and ethnicity in Canada, males appear to be more at risk.
Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24, according to the Canadian Psychiatric Association.
Certainly, some of the tragedies in the National Hockey League this summer of some of its alumni highlighted how prevalent this problem is, how prevalent this challenge is.
If there is one silver lining out of these enormous tragedies, it is that it will raise awareness to the critical need to look at mental health.
Our health minister , who is from the north, understands first-hand how very real and tragic this issue is in both first nation and Inuit communities. The suicide rate among first nation youth is approximately five to seven times higher in Canada than for non-aboriginal youth. In Inuit regions, suicide is 11 times the Canadian rate.
While there are many contributing factors to suicide, mental illness is a major one. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, nearly six million, or one in five Canadians, are likely to experience a mental illness over the course of their lifetime. This is why our government has taken some concrete steps to improve the mental health and well-being of Canadians. We take mental health issues seriously. We would like to recognize two important events related to mental illness that will take place this month. In Canada, this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. October 10 is World Mental Health Day. These events provide opportunities to raise awareness of mental illness and the importance of good mental health.
Studies indicate that more than 90% of suicide victims suffer from a mental illness or substance abuse problem. In addition, many of the same risk and protective factors that have an impact on mental illness can influence the risk of suicide. A recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that mental illness is associated with more lost work days than any other chronic condition, costing the Canadian economy $51 billion annually in lost productivity.
Mental health and well-being contribute to our quality of life. Good mental health is associated with better physical health outcomes, improved educational attainment, increased economic participation, and rich social relationships. Recognizing the importance that good mental health plays on our everyday lives, in 2007, this government created the Mental Health Commission of Canada as an independent, arm's-length organization. It provides a national focal point for mental illness. This government has invested $130 million in the commission over 10 years to advance work on mental health issues.
The commission is mandated to lead the development of Canada's first ever national mental health strategy. When released in 2012, the strategy would provide a way for the people of Canada, the mental health community, and the jurisdictions, to work together to achieve better mental health.
The commission's release, in 2009, of “Toward Recovery and Well Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada” marked the completion of the first phase in developing the strategy. It set out a vision containing broad goals for transforming mental health systems in Canada. It has become an important reference point for mental health policy and practice across the country.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada is now finalizing the first ever mental health strategy that would translate the vision and goals of this framework into a strategic plan. Elements of suicide prevention are expected to be contained in the strategy. The strategy has been informed by the voices of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations with a wide diversity of points of view and experience. This strategy is expected to make a significant contribution to the mental health community.
Another important initiative the Mental Health Commission of Canada has been mandated to address is the stigma associated with mental health issues. Stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help. Many Canadians living with a mental illness say the stigma they face is often worse than the mental illness itself. Mental illness affects people of all ages, from all walks of life. It can take on many forms, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has launched the largest systematic effort to reduce the stigma of mental health in Canadian history, known as Opening Minds. Its goal is to change the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians toward people living with mental health problems. Through this initiative the commission is working with partners across Canada to identify and evaluate existing anti-stigma programs. Efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness are currently focused at health care providers, the media, the workforce, along with children and youth. Opening Minds is serving as a catalyst in mobilizing actions of others to make a real difference in the area of anti-stigma programs.
To ensure that all the information on mental illness is accessible to the public and those in the mental health field, the commission is establishing a knowledge exchange centre. This initiative is creating new ways for Canadians to access information, share knowledge, and exchange ideas about mental health. All Canadians will have access to knowledge, ideas, and best practices related to mental illness. Furthermore, this will enhance the capacity for knowledge exchange throughout the Canadian mental health system.
The government has also taken further action to address the issue of mental health among the homeless. Mental illness and homelessness are increasingly related and there is a need for more research in this area.
Just last week in Barrie I was speaking to a nurse in the community, Nicole Black. She works at the David Busby Street Centre in Barrie. She was telling me how prevalent it is and the challenge that is faced when trying to assist with the battle to combat homelessness. It is great that the government recognizes the importance to work in this area. This is why in 2008 the government provided $110 million over five years to the Mental Health Commission of Canada to investigate mental illness and homelessness. This includes the At Home/Chez Soi initiative, which is the largest research project of its kind in the world.
The project is happening now in five Canadian cities: Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Moncton. This research project is centred on the housing first model. This means that once a person is given a place to live, the person can better concentrate on personal issues. The innovative approach of this project has the potential to make Canada a world leader in providing services to people who are homeless and living with a mental illness.
By creating and supporting the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the government has recognized the link between suicide and mental illness and has demonstrated its commitment to help address this serious issue.
In Barrie, when I toured the Canadian Mental Health Association offices on Bradford Street and the mental health area of the Royal Victoria Hospital, where there are some of the best doctors in the region who assist with mental health issues, I certainly heard loud and clear that this is a growing concern for Canadians and that we need to do what we can to contribute as a federal government. I am so proud that our federal government, under the leadership of our finance minister, has made this a priority.
It is my pleasure to be in the House today to address this very important topic.
Mr. Merv Tweed (Brandon—Souris, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this very important motion.
The impacts of suicide are enormous, and the factors that contribute to suicide are complex and far-reaching.
We know that people with mental illness, those with a history of abuse or a family history of suicide are predisposed to committing suicide. For example, Canadians who are diagnosed with depression are at a higher risk. We also know that the risk of suicide can be precipitated by life events, such as important losses, conflicts with the law, or rejection by society. The cumulative effect of these biological, social and economic factors, such as discrimination, family violence and limited economic opportunities, contribute to the risk of poor mental health and, in turn, suicide behaviour.
We have gained a significant amount of knowledge on the factors that influence mental illness and suicide, but we will benefit from a better understanding of the most effective interventions from prevention of risk factors to treatment approaches.
To best serve Canadians, we need to be innovative and identify more effective clinical, public health and social interventions. Consistent with our federal role, the government is providing the leadership to pursue the development of such knowledge through funding research and supporting the capacity of communities to address in more innovative ways the complexity of the issues associated with suicide.
Our government is making significant investments in research through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. I am told that since 2006, CIHR has invested over $234 million in research on mental health and addiction, and over $20 million on suicide-related research. CIHR supports population health research to enhance mental health and to reduce the burden of related disorders.
This research is leading the way in identifying the relationship between depression and anxiety, and how these mental health problems affect suicide behaviour. CIHR also supports the advancement of health research to improve and promote the health of first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It does this by putting an emphasis on respect for community, research priorities and indigenous knowledge, values and cultures.
Suicide has deeply affected Canada's aboriginal communities and is the leading cause of death for aboriginal youth. Therefore, CIHR has made suicide prevention for aboriginal communities a research focus. CIHR investments include the suicide prevention targeting aboriginal people initiative and the aboriginal community youth resilience network, a community-led research project aimed at preventing youth suicide.
The goal of this research network is to broaden the depth of social science and health expertise in aboriginal communities and facilitate the exchange of experiences between communities addressing the issue of aboriginal youth suicide.
Our government also provides funding to the Mental Health Commission of Canada to advance research and innovation in mental health and suicide prevention. For example, an investment of $110 million over five years supports the testing of new programs to better address homelessness among people with mental illness. The commission is also developing a knowledge centre to share the evidence and innovation in mental health with stakeholders across the country.
Our government has also invested $65 million over five years in the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy that promotes protective factors and the reduction of risk factors for aboriginal youth suicide. This initiative also contributes to the development of new knowledge and best practices on suicide prevention. Budget 2010 provided $75 million to renew this strategy.
The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care funded by our government is researching and developing clinical practice guidelines for primary and preventive care, including screening for depression.
In addition, the Public Health Agency of Canada's best practice portal provides chronic disease prevention and health promotion information for public health professionals. It has identified best practice interventions for mental illness prevention.
The prevention of suicide starts with building positive mental health and resilience in our children and our youth. Our government is therefore investing in the capacity of Canadian communities to develop and implement innovative approaches to help achieve this goal.
Our government has invested $27 million to support the nine large-scale mental health promotion initiatives in over 50 communities across Canada, including all provinces and territories. These interventions are focused on improving the mental health of children, youth and families. The goal is to implement and test the number of different programs across diverse populations.
These initiatives target those at higher risk of mental health problems and provide community based support to people living in rural, northern and aboriginal communities.
For example, about 30 aboriginal communities will benefit from these programs. They will also generate significant knowledge on the most effective interventions, which in turn can be shared across Canada with other aboriginal communities.
One such initiative is the mental health promotion for aboriginal youth project. It is directed to children age 10 through 14 years and their parents. This project focuses on a culturally specific approach. It strengthens family interactions by teaching parenting skills, social skills and coping mechanisms.
Another important example is our funding to the Arctic health research network. This will help to address the mental health needs of children, youth and families from Nunavut. This program will engage young people between the ages of 13 to 19 to raise awareness of youth mental health in up to seven communities. This will be done with health professionals, decision makers, families and community members.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also funds initiatives to address risk factors for poor mental health and suicide. We know that bullying, relationship violence and substance abuse are problems among our children and youth which can have harmful long-term consequences.
For example, the WITS program will be implemented in several communities in four provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick. The program works with children, families, local police and other partners to combat bullying.
In addition, funding for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health will introduce a program for reducing violence and building positive relationships among teens in seven school districts, over 40 schools in three provinces and one territory, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.
We know that support for vulnerable families is critical to the future of positive mental health and well-being. Therefore, we are investing in another initiative in Manitoba based on a world recognized model for improving positive mental health outcomes in at-risk families.
This program provides home visiting services to families with children from prenatal to five years of age who are living in conditions of risk. The family-centred program emphasizes positive parenting and enhanced parent-child interaction, improved child health development and use of community resources.
In addition, our government's funding for socially and emotionally aware kids program allows it to operate in three provinces. This program is aimed at building resilience, self-esteem and coping skills in children ages five to 12, as protective factors against poor mental health and risk factors for suicide behaviour.
Early results indicate a decrease in behaviour problems, along with a marked improvement in social relations, focused problem solving and greater emotional awareness. These are the very ingredients for healthy and productive young people.
Our government will continue to collaborate with partners across Canada to build new knowledge, share research results and support innovation to effectively address suicide and its devastating impact on families and communities.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in today's debate. I will be splitting my time with the member for St. Paul's.
It will be 11 years next month that I have been in this chamber. I have had the opportunity to join in many important debates in this place but I see none more relevant and more important than the debate we are having here today.
I commend my leader, the member for Toronto Centre, for bringing this motion forward. It is a topic that people want to gloss over, talk around or not get too in depth on because it has such an impact. If anybody engaging in today's debate, whether on the floor of the House of Commons or watching it at home, has not been touched by suicide, whether a family member, a friend or someone close, then that person has lived a blessed life.
We have heard a number of stories and very personal accounts today of having known or having been close to someone who has taken his or her life. It is an emotional and confusing time. We as legislators and lawmakers must do all in our power to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to lessen the numbers and save lives. The purpose of today's debate is just that, and I appreciate the fact that this was brought forward.
Coming up to the Hill this morning, I saw two old friends of mine, one being Francis Leblanc, the former member for Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, and the other being Stephen Hogg. We chatted a bit and they asked me what was on tap for today in the House. I told them about the subject matter of the motion coming forward and it seized both of them. Obviously, Francis understood the importance of it and Stephen, for the most part, choked up. He said that it meant a lot to him because his dad took his life. I asked him if the signs were there and he said that, of course they were and, in retrospect, he could see them in the rear view mirror. He said that it all made sense when his family reached back and followed it up to the final account. They were seized by the anguish and torture that their dad must have felt. They did not understand where he had gotten the unregistered gun that he had used. The planning leading up to the suicide must have been a tumultuous time emotionally and mentally for the man.
There have been accounts shared here today, along with the account that I heard on the way in this morning. My son's young friend took his own life. He came from a strong, supportive family. He was very engaged in sports and was a successful athlete. He was pursuing an education and seemed to have a great number of supportive friends. Then we got the phone call that he had taken his life. When we lose somebody through suicide, it impacts on all of us. It is very easy to stigmatize those who take their own lives and it leaves us sort of reaching for answers.
We are great hockey lovers in Canada. We think that those who take part in our national sport are almost invincible. They are big, physical creatures and we think about them as being pretty tough to play in the National Hockey League. We think they are physically tough, mentally tough, emotionally tough and they need to be to compete at that level. That is the reality.
However, the hockey community was shaken and the country was shaken over the course of the last number of months when we saw three very high-profile professional athletes take their own lives: Derek Boogaard, from Minnesota Wild; Rick Rypien, a former Canuck; and most recently, Wade Belak, a former member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. If anybody followed the careers of those three, they saw that they did have some common past. The link was made to the fact that they played a very physical role throughout their NHL careers. They were enforcers. They were the guys who dropped the gloves. They were the guys who picked up for their other teammates. If the tempo had to be changed, they were the guys who took that upon themselves. All three of them were very physical and certainly not shy to drop the gloves and become involved. I think Belak had 145 fights in his NHL career.
So, automatically, they sort of linked that together and asked whether the NHL was doing enough to address fighting in hockey. It all became about fighting. However, they missed the whole point in narrowing it down to the commonality of being fighters because, as things played out, we realized that all three suffered from depression.
What about a guy like Belak? I have a piece that Michael Landsberg from Off the Record put together in the wake of Belak's death, which I will read later. However, when we saw Belak on television or anything like that, the guy was a big, handsome farm boy with a beautiful wife and two kids. He was loving life, living large and all those things and we have to wonder, why him. However, in the wake of it, we realize that he had a nemesis and that nemesis was depression.
I did not realize my time was going that quickly but I do want to get Mr. Landsberg's comments on record when he talked about depression. He also suffered from depression. He stated:
|| We can't see depression. We can't biopsy it. Blood tests don't show it. Neither do x-rays. ... Depression is a disease. It's not an issue or a demon, although it may act like one. ... Start accepting depression as a serious and sometimes fatal illness.
I think that was very poignant.
Aaran Sands also wrote about Belak's death. Aaran Sands is a reporter who covered crime stories for a number of years. He talked about the stigma of depression, the stigma of mental illness and the cruel social stigma that comes with mental illness. He said:
|| Coming forward to seek help for my illness amounted to career and social suicide for me – it's been an extremely painful experience, worse than any nightmare I’ve ever had.
|| I hope things eventually change for the better. But until people start to look at mental illness differently, the suicides will continue, not just among suffering sports stars but in all walks of life.
The reason for today's motion, the reason to bring this issue to the fore of the House is to have that open debate on what it is we can do as a nation, what it is the government should be asking itself. Yes, it is taking steps and it is taking measures but is it doing all it can? Is there a better way to deliver services? Is there a better way to share information? What is it we can do? Are we doing the best we can as a nation?
That is the purpose of today's debate and I hope all members in this House see the merit of that, contribute to this debate and support this motion.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak to today's debate. It is very important that the House urge the government to work cooperatively with the provinces, territories, representative organizations from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, and other stakeholders to establish and fund a national suicide prevention strategy, which among other measures would promote a comprehensive and evidence-driven approach to prevent this terrible cause of death.
Last Wednesday, when our leader suggested this topic, put in motion a week of reflection, a week of memories and regrets tumbling back into every one of us who was worried about what we would say today. I said to the leader this morning that there are certain stories that cannot be told because there is no way to get through them.
The impotence that one feels as a friend, as a family physician is immeasurable. The line of “What could I have done? Did I do all I could?” just kept coming back and reverberating into what we know is largely a preventable occurrence, and “What can we do as a society, a family, as communities to make this preventable tragedy as small as possible?”
I remember having to go to the morgue and open a drawer, and recognize a patient of mine who had jumped off her balcony, previously homeless, when her birth mother came to find her and she felt not worthy.
I remember a CEO of an arts organization who was on her way to the AGM to explain that there was no money and they might have to shut down. She jumped in front of the subway on the way there.
I remember one of my best friends, a prominent lawyer at Blake, Cassels, who I spent the whole summer trying to talk to and keep alive. A prominent lawyer, great job, great relationship, but those sirens that she described were calling her, to see over the other side, and she eventually could not hold back. She hung herself in her basement.
It is often in reaction to depression, to losing a job or losing a relationship or, as we sometimes see, somebody in trouble with the law who is afraid that people will find out. However, it is based on that horrible diagnosis of depression. It is this hopeless, copeless, worthlessness that is really almost 100% of the time quite separate from the facts. To not be able to get over those feelings, and for us as relatives and friends to not be able to unpack it and not be able to deal with the actual changes in the brain, make it impossible for some to get beyond that.
We have seen PTSD in soldiers and we have seen it in our veterans. At health committee we heard from the widow of the RCMP officer who had been told that his depression was over, given back his handgun, and who killed himself that afternoon.
This is no easy task. As the member for Cape Breton—Canso mentioned, it is even in our most revered hockey players. I have a Jordin Tootoo jersey in my office, when he was with the Brandon Wheat Kings. I remember how excited we were that he would be the first Inuit player to play in the NHL.
His brother, Terence, had played pro hockey, and shortly after Jordin was drafted his brother took his own life because he had been arrested for drinking and driving. Even in his final suicide note, it said, “Jor. Go all the way. Take care of the family. You are the man. Ter.” Even in that final note, there was hope, in a certain way, that we could not get at and we were not able to do what needed to be done.
Our leader wrote an article in La Presse:
|| Today, 10 Canadians will take their own lives, a per capita rate three times that of the United States’, largely due to the staggering number of suicides among aboriginal Canadians.
I keep thinking about a presentation I did that was entitled “What Could I Have Done”. The first slide was a quote from a youth from the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples. He said that he was strung between two cultures and psychologically at home in neither.
It is amazing that the statistics on suicide for our aboriginal people are so high. The statistics on suicide for our Inuit people show that they are 11 times greater than the rest of Canada at risk.
I remember Bill Mussell from the Native Mental Health Association explaining to me the importance of a secure personal cultural identity and how that builds self-esteem and resilience to handle things when bad things happen to good people. For some people, when bad things happen it just takes them down. As Bill Mussell said in his article in CAMH, “There has been some fine work by the RCAP and the senate committee”, but he also said:
|| According to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, good health is the outcome of living actively, productively and safely, with reasonable control over the forces affecting everyday life, with the means to nourish body and soul, in harmony with one’s neighbours and oneself, and with hope for the future of one’s children and one’s land--
|| Colonization brought changes that attacked, undermined and devalued the aboriginal world view, while at the same time drastically altering the conditions of life...Colonization brought negative, extreme and rapid changes to aboriginal life, while denying the validity of the tools traditionally used by First Nations to cope with change.
We have evidence to show what works and what does not. We are calling in the House for a strategy to have the audacity to fund what works and not fund those things that just make us feel better but do nothing to change the outcome.
Michael Chandler's unbelievable work at the University of British Columbia shows that the presence of self government in land claims, community-based education systems, health services, police and fire services, cultural facilities, getting back to ceremonies, women in government and child protection services have an impact on suicide rates. Community by community, those that have been able to get all of those things done have watched their youth suicide rate drop to virtually zero. His paper in Horizons concludes:
|| Taken altogether, this extended program of research strongly supports two major conclusions. First, generic claims about youth suicide rates for the whole of any Aboriginal world are, at best actuarial fictions that obscure critical community-by-community differences in the frequency of such deaths. Second, individual and cultural continuity are strongly linked, such that First Nations communities that succeed in taking steps to preserve their heritage culture, and that work to control their own destinies, are dramatically more successful in insulating their youth against the risks of suicide.
We want a real strategy and that means, what, when and how. We want it based in evidence and we want it funded properly. This means that there has to be an ability to use the research and knowledge, and translate that into effective policies, political will, effective programs and practices. It means ongoing applied research that takes us back to better research that can really identify best practices. We then have to have the nerve to put it in place.
In the health goals for Canada that all the health ministers approved in the fall of 2005, belonging and engagement was a very important one, but the government has yet to develop the indicators and targets.
Each and every person should have dignity, a sense of belonging and contribute to supportive families, friendships and diverse communities. We need to continue to learn throughout our lives through formal and informal education, relationships with others and the land. We must participate in and influence the decisions that affect our personal and collective health and well-being. As Nellie Cournoyea said in 1975 in Speaking Together: “Paternalism has been a total failure”.
We must work with our aboriginal communities, first nations, Inuit and Métis together to develop a real plan that will really address this national tragedy.
Mrs. Kelly Block (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kildonan—St. Paul.
It is with great compassion that I rise in the House today to acknowledge the many Canadian families who have dealt with the anguish of losing a loved one to suicide. Indeed, I am from one of those families. I lost a brother to suicide 23 years ago.
I want to specifically focus on those in Canada's three northern territories today and to highlight why our government, along with the territories and community groups, is working collaboratively to find better ways to promote mental health among Canadians.
We undertake significant work to improve the health outcomes of aboriginal Canadians, including research through the Institute of Aboriginal People's Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. As well, budget 2010 provided $285 million over two years to renew aboriginal health programs, including funding for the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.
It is a sad fact that aboriginal people in Canada's northern communities do not enjoy the same relatively high standard of health and living as do many other Canadians in the south. Health indicators in the territories, particularly in Nunavut, are among the poorest in Canada, and the prevalence of chronic and infectious diseases and mental health problems and suicide is increasing.
Life expectancy for aboriginal people in the territories, especial Inuit, is lower than in the rest of Canada, and infant mortality rates are higher. In addition to these health challenges, many territorial communities are also dealing with socio-economic realities like poverty and higher rates of unemployment among their aboriginal population.
Per capita, the number of residential school survivors in the territories is great than anywhere else in Canada, and this legacy has had an immediate and lasting effect on families and individuals that is only now starting to be understood.
It is this young population, the future of Canada's north, that is of particular concern. First nations rates of suicide are 4.3 times the national average, and Inuit regions show a rate of over 11 times higher. Unlike suicide rates for non-aboriginal people, rates of aboriginal suicide are highest among youth. Indeed, injury and suicide are the leading causes of death for aboriginal youth.
Suicide rates in Nunavut for men aged 15 to 24 are 28 times the national average. Our government acknowledges that the high suicide rates in the north, particularly among Inuit youth, are a cause of great concern. That is why our government is taking action on aboriginal youth suicide.
Last year our government tabled a budget that included nearly $1 billion in investment for aboriginal people. As part of the budget, $285 million was allocated to aboriginal health programs, including funding to continue the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy until 2015.
To support community-based solutions focused on resilience, embracing and celebrating life, and creating supportive environments, our government has funded the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.
Some of the highlights of these investments have been the development of a help line in Nunavut for youth having suicidal thoughts; training youth leaders and other community leaders in all three territories in applied suicide intervention skills training; and cultural and on-the-land activities, life skills activities and sport and recreational activities to promote self-esteem and positive identity.
Other activities focus on increasing awareness of suicide risk factors, engaging a wide range of community members in preventive techniques and providing youth counselling.
As well, the “Inuusuvit, Our Way of Life” project is a youth engagement project that includes a corporate partnership with Canon. Through this project, Inuit youth work with youth mentors in acquiring skills to use new media technologies, such as cameras and computers, to explore and promote youth mental health issues and to learn and practise traditional Inuit knowledge and cultural practices.
This project contributes to positive youth mental health through engagement in culture, while developing valuable leadership and communication skills and increasing youth engagement with their communities.
The Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have committed to work together on eight key commitments to improve suicide prevention measures in the territories. These include community-based training and resources for youth, strengthening the continuum of mental health services and research to better understand suicide in Nunavut.
Through the Indian residential schools resolution health support program, Health Canada is providing mental and emotional supports for eligible former residential school students and their families. Services are available in all communities across the north, and include aboriginal mental health workers, elders and cultural events, and access to professional councillors.
Recognizing that reliving these experiences can be very difficult, this year our government is providing $8 million to aboriginal organizations in the north to provide cultural and emotional support to former students and their families. Part of the healing process is being led through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which this spring and summer visited 19 communities as part of the northern tour, ending with a national event in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, in early July.
Over 2,500 participants attended the event in Inuvik, which resulted in over 3,200 interactions with the health support team.
This was a very important and emotional event that brought together former students from across the north who travelled to Inuvik or attended events in their communities. For many it was the first time they were sharing their stories. Our support will continue for these students, their families and others who are still coming forward. The government is working with its regional and national partners to ensure that all former students and families are aware of the services available to them through the resolution health support program.
While the federal health portfolio does not have jurisdiction over direct health service delivery in the territories, or direct mental health care services, it collaborates with territorial governments and other partners to address health issues and supports many health promotion activities that directly and indirectly help benefit the mental health of northerners. This year our government is providing $15 million to the Government of Nunavut, $12 million to the Government of the Northwest Territories and $1.9 million to first nations communities in the Yukon to support a range of health promotion activities.
Our government takes seriously its commitment to support aboriginal communities in addressing mental health and addictions. The national native alcohol and drug abuse program supports community-based prevention, intervention and aftercare with a cultural focus. For example, in Yellowknife a traditional program has been developed that includes a sweat lodge, sharing circles and counselling with elders to support clients to start living, or to continue leading, healthy lives.
In closing, the north's greatest resource is the people who live and work there. Our government is proud to work with the territories to deliver concrete improvements to the medical care that northern families get. As we can see, our government is committed to helping ensure that people in the north have safe, healthy and prosperous communities.
Mrs. Joy Smith (Kildonan—St. Paul, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to describe the concrete actions the government is taking to help aboriginal communities and families address the tragic issue of youth suicide. It is an important topic that we have been discussing and one to which members from all sides of the House have been sensitive.
Aboriginal populations in Canada are facing many unique challenges. That is why our government is not using a one-size-fits-all approach and is funding a variety of programs and services that target their unique needs.
As members of the House know too well many first nations, their families and communities face widespread social and economic challenges, poor health outcomes and, perhaps most tragically, the loss of children and youth to suicide.
Aboriginal people continue to have significantly poorer health outcomes than other Canadians. For example, heart disease and diabetes rates among aboriginal people are considerably higher than the rates among the non-aboriginal population. Tuberculosis rates among the Inuit have recently been reported as being 186 times higher than the rate among Canadian born non-aboriginal people.
Possibly the most distressing are the aboriginal suicide rates, which are among the highest in the world. The rate among first nations is 4.3 times higher than the national average. Inuit regions show a rate more than 11 times higher. It is significant.
Unlike suicide rates for non-aboriginal people, rates of aboriginal suicide are highest among the youth. Injury and suicide are the leading causes of death for aboriginal youth. The well-being of this demographic group is particularly pressing considering that aboriginal youth under 20 years of age account for over 40% of the aboriginal population and this figure is rising. The health of these youth literally represents the future health of aboriginal communities. Helping aboriginal young people and preventing aboriginal youth suicide is and must continue to be a public priority.
Our government is taking action on aboriginal youth suicide. In the House last year, the hon. Minister of Finance tabled a budget that included nearly $1 billion in investments for aboriginal people. This included $285 million for aboriginal health programs and $75 million to extend the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy until 2015.
The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy exists in order to ensure that aboriginal families and communities have access to critical supports in order to prevent and respond to the most tragic of problems.
This strategy was developed in close partnership with first nations and Inuit people. It is based on a global review of evidence-based suicide prevention approaches. Health Canada worked not only with key first nations and Inuit national and regional organizations, but directly with aboriginal youth in order to ensure this important investment was relevant and would target those who would need it most.
The strategy incorporates the best available evidence with respect to youth suicide prevention.
Experience and research show that culturally-based services are important for positive health outcomes among first nations and Inuit communities, their families and for individuals. Research has also shown a strong link between cultural identity and youth suicide prevention.
The strategy recognizes that the greatest impact on youth suicide prevention comes from community-driven programming developed according to the unique needs and strengths of the people, and they have many strengths.
The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy focuses on building coping and life skills, and other known factors that can protect youth against suicide, including family and social supports, cultural ties, youth leadership and engagement, and school performance.
The strategy has four main elements.
First, it focuses on primary prevention. These are activities which improve overall mental health at the community level. These activities promote an increased awareness of suicide risk and protective factors within families and communities.
Second, the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy supports first nations and Inuit communities that are most vulnerable to suicide.
Community-based activities are known to have the greatest impact on youth and on youth suicide prevention. The evidence indicates that these approaches produce longer term solutions that move at-risk communities toward better mental health and wellness. Based on this evidence, the strategy supports over 150 community-based prevention projects that target youth who are at an elevated risk of suicide.
The results of these projects are positive. For example, the canoe journey project is yielding tremendous results in several coastal communities in British Columbia. It brings together youth and elders and engages the whole community in traditional activities while building critical life skills and resilience. Participants have described this project as a life-changing experience.
Third, the strategy supports communities by strengthening crisis response capacity in the event of a suicide-related crisis. In many instances this includes partnering with provinces, territories and other sectors to address community needs.
The fourth component of the strategy is the development of new knowledge. This includes work with communities and researchers to build effective approaches to prevent youth suicide. Its partners have included the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the University of Victoria and McGill University. Some of this research is truly groundbreaking and is helping to inform important programs across the country.
Through all of this work the strategy works closely with national aboriginal organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
I am pleased to report that the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy is demonstrating measurable success. Communities are reporting that the youth participating in suicide prevention projects demonstrate an increased sense of hope and optimism as well as more pride, discipline and confidence.
We know that people with mental illness issues are often stigmatized and there can be a great reluctance to discuss suicide. It is encouraging to note that the strategy has led to an increase in the number of first nations and Inuit community members who are willing to discuss the issue of suicide.
That is not all. Projects funded through the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy are leading to improved school attendance and performance, the development of safe and supportive community environments, as well as fostering in youth a sense of having skills and being able to contribute to society.
The strategy has also increased the effectiveness of community mental health workers. For example, suicide prevention training funded through the strategy has contiributed to an increased confidence among community workers who intervene during a crisis and and a decrease in feelings of powerlessness.
As a result of this strategy, front-line workers are better prepared to detect, prevent and intervene in the event of a suicide crisis. Following training, 84% of the workers said they were more attentive to the signs of suicide.
In addition to the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy, our government continues to invest in important long-standing programs that are critical to the long term well-being and health of first nations and Inuit. Due to the success of these initiatives, Canada is considered by many to be a world leader in terms of its innovative and proven aboriginal programs.
For example, the national youth solvent abuse program has been recognized internationally as an effective and holisitic interdisciplinary treatment program for youth.
Another successful program in many aboriginal communities is the national native alcohol and drug abuse program. It is an excellent example of a community-based and community-determined program. It is also a leader in incorporating community, cultural and holistic approaches into prevention and treatment programming. Building on the strengths of this program, we are investing $30.5 million in addiction services for first nations and Inuit as part of the national anti-drug strategy.
Health Canada is working in close partnership with the National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation and many other foundations to help address this serious problem.
Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Charlottetown.
When I was in grade 11 at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, I was the coach of the grade 10 trivia team. Some members were young geniuses, but not really nerds in the traditional sense of the word, no more than any of the other students. They were well-adjusted, sharp, nice, good kids. I worked with them for the whole year. A year later, one of these young people, who had been full of life and potential, was dead. He had committed suicide. This was my first experience with this sad reality. To this day, I remember my reaction, my questions, my shock and confusion. Why? I asked myself what I had not seen, what we had not noticed, what his friends, peers, teachers and family had not seen. And, above all, what could we have done, what could I have said to him, how could I have helped him with his problems? We did not know and he did not talk about them.
Today, we find ourselves in a place where we can do something, where we can act to prevent all these tragedies that are happening to families and individuals every year. That is why I am so proud of our motion that calls for a national suicide prevention strategy, because, despite our individual experiences, suicide is not just a personal tragedy, but also a serious public health issue and a priority that must be included in our political discussions.
As critic for youth, post-secondary education and amateur sport, this issue strikes a chord with me. In Canada, close to 4,000 people commit suicide each year, some of them young people between the ages of 15 and 24. In this age group, suicide is the second leading cause of death and accounts for over 20% of deaths. These numbers rise considerably among the most vulnerable youth. Many of our students fall within this age group. In 2009, a survey conducted on six campuses in Ontario indicated that over 50% of students felt hopeless, one in three was depressed and could not function, and almost 10% had thought about suicide in the past 12 months. Suicide affects all of us. It is not just a health issue. It is a social issue in terms of both its causes and its solutions.
Mental illness, abuse, the loss of a loved one at a young age, a family history of suicide and difficult peer relationships are all factors that can make a person vulnerable to suicide.
Looking at the numbers, we know that every dollar invested in mental health care and addiction treatment saves our health care system and our social productivity $7 to $30. Although there are no Canadian statistics on the direct and indirect costs of suicide, a series of reports estimates that suicides and suicide attempts cost around $15 billion a year. That is a lot of money, but the human cost of suicide is even higher, particularly in terms of the emotional and psychological effects on the friends and families of suicide victims.
The problem is that Canada is worse off than other industrialized countries. We have the third-highest rate among these countries. What is worse is that among our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual and intersexual youth, the suicide rate is more than seven times higher than in the heterosexual community.
That is why I provide so much support to groups like Gay Line, which provides advice, but also a listening ear to our young people. They are an excellent suicide prevention tool. That is also why a number of us participated in the “It Gets Better” project to show our young people that even though they feel different, they are an important part of our society and our lives. But we need to do more.
The situation is also dire among our first nations. In recent decades, the number of young aboriginals committing suicide has steadily increased.
It has come to the point where the aboriginal youth suicide rate is seven times higher than the non-aboriginal youth rate.
In July 2001 a Suicide Prevention Advisory Group was jointly established by the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and former health minister Allan Rock. The purpose of this advisory group was to review the existing research and formulate a series of practical, doable recommendations to help stem the tide of youth suicides occurring in first nations communities across Canada.
The report recommends, for one, that Health Canada initiate and support the creation of a comprehensive national first nations mental health strategy—including mandate, policies, and programs—that integrates holistic approaches to suicides, psychiatric disorders and other critical mental, physical, emotional and spiritual problems in first nations communities. But we need to do more.
Health Canada says that the role of the Canadian government is to help Canadians maintain and improve their mental health, including preventing suicidal behaviour. Within its jurisdiction, the government works to develop and disseminate knowledge on mental health promotion and mental illness prevention; provide leadership and governance; develop social marketing campaigns; and conduct surveillance on health trends in population.
In 2007, the federal government provided funding to establish and support the Mental Health Commission of Canada to lead the development of a national mental health strategy. And it is great that the Canadian government is providing monitoring and information, and I am very pleased that it decided to invest in the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It is a major step in the right direction, but we need to do more.
I often have the opportunity to rise in this House to talk about my father's values and politics. I have also had the opportunity to stand up and talk about how proud I am of my grandfather. He was a soldier who, at the same time, served in the House of Commons. I am also very pleased and very proud to be able to rise today to talk about my mother. Among other things, she may be the only woman in Canada to have had a father, a husband and a son elected to the House of Commons. My mother has suffered from depression and bipolar disorder her entire life. She has gone through some extremely tough times and we, as her family members who love her so, have gone through these tough times with her. Nonetheless, with help, support and much love, she has pulled through and now she is doing extraordinary work across the country to destigmatize mental illness and to remind people and governments that we can do a lot to prevent and heal, and even live very productive lives, despite the mental health challenges.
Make no mistake, suicide is largely linked to victims suffering from mental illness. In fact, some form of mental illness is diagnosed in 90% of suicide victims. A Health Canada report on suicide and prevention shows that almost everyone who kills themselves suffers from a form of mental illness such as severe depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder. Often they are also drug addicts or alcoholics. We can help them by taking clear and concrete measures.
We must take action because we can. We need to have a national suicide strategy to reach people in need in every sector of our society. We must put our efforts into improving life for our citizens. That is what we on this side of the House sincerely believe in and we hope the government will act accordingly.
Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in this debate on the motion proposed by our leader, the hon. member for Toronto Centre.
I would like to read the motion again:
|| That the House agree that suicide is more than a personal tragedy, but is also a serious public health issue and public policy priority; and, further, that the House urge the government to work cooperatively with the provinces, territories, representative organizations from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, and other stakeholders to establish and fund a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which among other measures would promote a comprehensive and evidence-driven approach to deal with this terrible loss of life.
We will spend the day speaking about suicide prevention, but the challenge will be to continue to speak up tomorrow, the next day and beyond. Why? It is because suicide is a terrible thing. It ends a life. It is permanent. It is sad. It is final and it impacts families and our communities. It is also a challenge for each of us here to reflect upon what we can do as legislators, as parliamentarians, to develop programs and strategies to prevent these tragedies. We all must do our part to tear away the taboo associated with talking about mental health issues, depression and suicide.
Studies show that suicide is often connected to mental illness and mood disorders. Among youth, it is often stress, anxiety and bullying. Alcohol and substance abuse are also often associated with suicide as well as the loss of a parent or caregiver in early childhood, the loss or breakup of a relationship, and poverty. It is a terrible stain on our country, a country as wealthy as Canada, to find itself in a situation where far too often people take their lives as a result of financial pressures. Suicide is sometimes related to physical, sexual and mental abuse, isolation and loneliness.
Many of us know the feeling of the loss of a loved one, whether as a result of an accident, a terrible disease like cancer, or the loss of a parent or grandparent through old age. We have all experienced these losses. However, there is something deeply and profoundly sad to hear of someone who believes they have no future, suffers depression, or perhaps just wanting to end the pain and decides to end his or her own life.
I am reminded of an incident that happened just two weeks ago, and members will know this as well. It is a story of a beautiful young man with a great future ahead of him. He was a young man who had many talents and abilities. His parents said he was the most loving person in the world. He killed himself at the age of 14. He had his whole life ahead of him. We later discovered the reason for this terrible tragedy was rampant bullying because of his sexuality.
This really does cause the mind and heart to pause and think that in this day and age some young people feel that the only option available to them for escape from their tormentors and pain is to take their own life. This is but one example.
The suicide rate for Canadian youth is the third highest in the industrial world. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged 25 to 29 and 40 to 44, as well as women in their early 30s. Suicide rates among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex and two-spirited youth is seven times the rate of heterosexual youth. It is critically important that all of us here in this House condemn any and all forms of homophobia in Canada. It is simply unacceptable.
I want to take a few moments to return to the author of this motion, the hon. member for Toronto Centre and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
For the many who suffer silently, they often experience feelings of shame and the idea that their feelings are somehow not normal. There is a perception that being a leader means always being tough, that one must exhibit strength and show no signs of weakness or vulnerability. We often hear that a leader is someone who must have pronounced skills and abilities, someone who exhibits great communication and speaking abilities, and the list goes on.
While all of us would agree that the member for Toronto Centre possesses all of these qualities, his real strength rests in his openness about the depression in his own life and his willingness to say so publicly. By going public about depression, the fact of being vulnerable, for putting a human face to what millions of Canadians have felt and feel today, he and others put a human face to what they may be feeling and perhaps provide a sense that they are not alone, that the spiral of pain and sadness can be overcome. Again, we must confront the taboo of mental illness, and today is a good start.
This is not a controversial motion and I expect members on all sides will support it. It is not a partisan issue; it is a human issue. It is an issue that touches many of us.
I want to focus a bit of my time on veterans and the significant mental health crisis that exists among them. In January 2011 the Department of National Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs jointly released a study called “Survey on Transition to Civilian Life: Report on Regular Force Veterans”.
Here are a few facts. The suicide rate for those in the armed forces is nearly three times higher than the general population. Of all the males who enrolled in the regular forces after 1972 and were released before 2007, a total of 2,620 have died. Of all those who died, more than 500 died of suicide. That is more than one-quarter of them. Those are alarming statistics.
Here in Canada, suicide is preventable. We can do more to help and provide necessary resources in this fight. We can work with provinces and communities to provide programs and services. Far too often our health services are fragmented, disconnected, incoherent and lacking a national vision. We can do better and we should. At the very least, we should do more for the people the federal government has direct responsibility for: our veterans and our first nations communities.
Today, for me as a new member of Parliament, is an important one. It is issues like this one and the opportunity to speak openly about mental health and suicide that make me proud to be a member of this House.