British Columbia

B.C. community pleads for help to halt suicide 'epidemic'

Community leaders in Hazelton, B.C., are calling for help after a recent rash of suicide attempts by aboriginal youths.

7 suicide attempts in one week lead to calls for more services for aboriginal youths

Community leaders in Hazelton, B.C.,are calling for help after a recent rash of suicide attempts by aboriginal youths.

Earlier in November, seven people tried to kill themselves in just one week, and one Gitxsangirl died.

Dr. George Deagle, a familyphysician in Hazelton,called it "an epidemic."

"It's a really big problem. Last time I was on call, which was a few days ago, I had three significant attempts in my 12-hour shift,"Deagle said Sunday.

Alf Brady, a mental health counsellor with the Gitxsan Health Society, said the number of suicide attempts since June is astounding.

"I've been informed of 59 attempts in a population of 6,000 people, so we're talking about one per cent, which is incredible," Brady said Tuesday.

The aboriginal communities ofHazelton need jobs, better emergency services and recreation centres for local youth, Brady said.

"The majority [of suicide attempts], of course, are young people and the majority are involved with drugs and alcohol," he said.

Hazelton RCMP Const. Warren Brown called the high rate of suicide a crisis and said there just isn't enough help.

"We have seven First Nations communities here. They're all spread out. There are just not enough hours in the day to get out and provide assistance," said Brown on Monday.

An emergency meeting was held recently to talk about suicide in the remote communities on the Yellowhead Highwaybetween Prince George and Prince Rupert.

Brown said it's a start, but they have a long way to go if they hope to put an end to the crisis.

Nathan Cullen, the MP for the region, agreed. "There's nothing for youth to do," he said.

"We've gotten too used to this. We've gotten too used to the idea of life being so bad in many of our First Nations communities that suicide is an option for people," Cullen saidMonday.

"I sat with the minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl, and we're both deeply upset by this."

Cullen said the recent concern has led to more talk at the political levelto fund things like after-school programs, long-term counselling and a detox centre for the northwestern community.

Strahl said Thursdayhe hopes to work with the community.

"We've offered our support. We await their invitation as to what kind of help that may look like in the short term, immediate term, whether it's support workers or crisis mental health counselling or nurses or other experts in the field," he said.

FederalHealth Minister Tony Clement said his departmentofficials are working with local elders and will help in any way they can, once they know more.

"We're aware the suicide rate's gone off the Richter scale," Clement said Wednesday.

"Officials from Health Canada have contacted the community elders, have offered our support," he said.

"We will be there for that community, but we have to hear back from them as to what they precisely wish from us," said Clement.

But Cullen wants the federal government to take more action and said federal officials should visit the community.

"They have to physically show up, the minister or a senior person needs to get into the Hazeltons and offer whatever resources the community needs,"Cullen, a New DemocratMP, said on Wednesday.