Mental health stigma barrier to suicide prevention: minister

The P.E.I. government released a comprehensive study of suicides in the province on Thursday, covering the years from 2002 to 2011.

Health Minister Doug Currie wants to see better access for youth seeking treatment

P.E.I.'s health minister Doug Currie says a big part of reducing the number of suicides in the province is to remove the stigma around mental health.

On Thursday, the P.E.I. government released a comprehensive study of suicides in the province, covering the years from 2002 to 2011.

The study examined the circumstances surrounding the 157 suicides that occurred over those 10 years.

The number of suicides varied greatly from year to year, ranging from 10 to 21 cases, but the trend over that decade appeared to be stable. The overall rate in the province was virtually identical to the Canadian rate of 10.7 suicides per 100,000 population.

The study identified a number of risk factors for suicide. One of the most common was being treated for mental health illness in the previous five years. 

About 90 per cent of people who committed suicide between 2002 and 2011 had some form of mental health issues — most often depression.

Males were found to be five times more likely to commit suicide compared to females, even though men were far less likely to be treated for a mental disorder.

One of the concerns of the study was looking at the age of individuals who commit suicide.

Carolyn Sanford, the provincial epidemiologist, said it doesn't appear as though youth suicide is on the rise.

"Well certainly, from the study that we did, suicide is much more likely in middle age. So it's individuals who are 40 to 59 that are more likely to commit suicide on Prince Edward Island. We didn't see that necessarily in our youth population in that 10 year demographic," she said.

The study included information on mental health in the province, noting that 20,000 Islanders were treated for mental health problems in 2010. Substance abuse was another noted risk factor. According to the study, rates for treatment of alcohol abuse was relatively steady over the 10 years covered, but rates of treatment for abuse of other drugs has been slowly increasing.

Currie said he would like to see increased access for youth seeking treatment.

Using the year with the highest number of suicides in the province, 2009, the report found the rate on the Island was virtually the same as the national rate. (Province of P.E.I.)