Health Canada's efforts to curb the high aboriginal youth suicide rate haven't been working, according to a survey of suicide prevention workers conducted earlier this year.
The survey by Ekos Research Associates, which was submitted to Health Canada in March, consisted of telephone interviews between January and March with 34 people working in the field of aboriginal suicide prevention, including front-line health-care workers, consultants and academics.
The results suggested that some of Health Canada's existing suicide prevention materials have been a waste of money.
Interviewees "generally dismissed the resources because they were thought to be culturally irrelevant, inappropriately worded, and lacking in actionable solutions," the report read.
"Several interviewees mentioned finding large numbers of materials sitting untouched in piles at post offices and hospitals and, distressingly, many suicide prevention workers said that materials were often discarded before anyone had the chance to look at them."
"Government-created materials and resources did not receive many favourable mentions from interviewees because they are often seen as unnecessary, ineffective, and wasteful of tax dollars," the report added.
"The suicide rate really hasn't gone down," said Mary Simon, president of the national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. "In fact, it's probably gone up. So whatever has been done up to now hasn't worked."
Health Minister Tony Clement acknowledged that more is needed to fight youth suicide.
"If you're asking me whether a single pamphlet can make a difference, not likely," he said. "But I think pamphlets, along with other forms of media communication, all of these things are going to be part of the solution."
Social workers who participated in the survey said they don't even remember what was in the government pamphlets, and instead created their own posters, information sheets, workbooks and kits. Some workers emphasized getting youth involved in hands-on activities such as building hockey rinks and holding fashion shows and talent contests.
"In most cases, interviewees felt that governments should continue to play a funding role and should not expend resources on producing ineffective materials," the report read. "It was frequently stated that the federal government should support the people in the community in their efforts to create and distribute materials."
Survey respondents said they would prefer the government create multimedia kits for front-line workers that would include comic books, DVDs of "success story" testimonials from aboriginal youth and youth workers, as well aslinks to suicide prevention websites and toll-free telephone hotlines.
However, some workers in isolated and economically depressed communities said they would benefit from pamphlets and other basic suicide prevention information.
In 2005, the federal government launched the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, which will give funding to aboriginal communities to decide for themselves the best way of reaching out to young people. The Northwest Territories government says it is currently in the process of deciding how the funding will be spent.