Calgary

Suicide rate in Alberta climbs 30% in wake of mass oilpatch layoffs

'It says something really about the horrible human impact of what's happening in the economy,' counsellor says

Unemployment

The suicide rate has increased in Alberta this year, a trend experts say stems from the financial and emotional stress associated with so many job losses in the province. (Shutterstock)

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The suicide rate in Alberta has increased dramatically in the wake of mounting job losses across the province.

The most recent data only goes to June, but according to the chief medical examiner's office, 30 per cent more Albertans took their lives in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.  

"This is staggering," said Mara Grunau, who heads the Centre for Suicide Prevention

Mara Grunau suicide prevention centre alberta

Mara Grunau, who heads the Centre for Suicide Prevention, says the increase in Alberta's suicide rate is staggering. (CBC)

"It's far more, far exceeds anything we would ever have expected, and we would never have expected to see this much this soon."

Here are the statistics:

  • From January to June 2014, there were 252 suicides in Alberta.
  • During the same period this year, there were 327.
  • If the trend continues, Alberta could be on track for 654 suicides this year.
  • In an average year, there are 500, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention.

Demand for counselling also climbs

In this year of mass layoffs in the energy sector, calls to the Calgary Distress Centre have changed tone and have become more frequent, says counsellor David Kirby.

"For me it says something really about the horrible human impact of what's happening in the economy with the recession and the real felt effect, the real suffering and the real struggle that people are experiencing," he said.

Kirby says demand for counselling services has increased by 80 per cent — and the problems people are struggling with are more complex.

"There might be substance abuse issues. There might be imminent financial collapse," he said.

"Anxiety, depression. Relationship conflict, maybe concurrent domestic violence. So there are many more things that people are trying to juggle I think at the same time." 

'People are just at wit's end'

Nancy Bergeron, who has answered distress centre phone lines for a few years, says this year has been the hardest.

"People are just at wit's end and they're contemplating it, right?"

However, Grunau is optimistic the trend can be curbed now that the province has increased its budget for mental health.

"In the budget we saw money specifically earmarked for mental health and we're hoping that some of it will be directly put into suicide prevention."

That could mean more resources for distress centre workers like Bergeron.

"We want to be able to interject and kind of break that thought process and say, "Hey, you know what? There's other things. You don't have to end your life."

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