Suicide prevention strategy sorely needed in Sask.: U of S prof

Doyle Vermette, NDP MLA for the Cumberland in northern Sask., introduced a private members bill in November calling the government to establish a suicide prevention strategy.

Nearly 1,900 people took their own lives in Sask. from 2005 to 2017

Quebec reduced overall suicide rates by a third, and youth rates by half, after it introduced a suicide prevention strategy. Saskatchewan, which does not have a strategy of its own, had nearly 1,900 take their own life from 2005 to 2017. (Shutterstock)

Saskatchewan isn't working quickly enough to establish a suicide prevention strategy, according to a suicide prevention specialist.

Doyle Vermette, NDP MLA for the Cumberland in northern Sask., introduced a private members bill in November calling the government to establish a suicide prevention strategy. It was criticized at the time for failing "to recognize" that the province was addressing suicide by increasing supports for mental health and addictions.

"Mental health care is important but mental health care is only a part of suicide prevention more generally," said Jack Hicks, an adjunct professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan who specializes in suicide prevention.

The province's MLAs will give a second reading to Vermette's bill, The Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act, on Monday.

Hicks pointed to Quebec, where a suicide prevention strategy was implemented in 1998. It included outreach through a crisis line and extensive patient follow up. Overall suicide rates were reduced by about 30 per cent while youth suicide rates were cut in half.

The people most at-risk to die by suicide are those who have attempted it in the last year. It makes a difference if you follow up with the person a week, a month or two months after the attempt, Hicks said.

"Just making sure that people are OK, connecting them to services if they need them, just letting them know that somebody cares that that alone will reduce the number of people who've attempted suicide [from] re-attempting," he said. 

"It's not a subject that people want to talk or think a lot about but the World Health Organization defines suicide as a largely preventable public health problem and it recommends that every country have a suicide prevention strategy," he added.

Jack Hicks said following up with someone after a suicide attempt is one way to mitigate another attempt. People who have recently attempted to take their own life are the most at-risk for dying. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Members of Parliament unanimously voted in favour of a national suicide prevention strategy last week, a motion introduced by NDP MP Charlie Angus. Hicks said it shows the country's leaders are acknowledging that Canada is playing catch-up on suicide prevention.

"It's time to get down to it. Nobody's claiming we can prevent all suicide but we can prevent more than than what we're preventing," he said.

About 1,900 people in Sask. took their own lives from 2005 to 2017. Of those deaths, 508 of them were First Nations people. Men accounted for 1,424 of those deaths, while 474 were women.

Statistics Canada has also reported that suicide remains the second leading cause of death for people from ages 15 to 34 in Canada.

The rates of suicide among First Nations people is more than four times higher the rest of the province. For First Nations girls, the rates are more than 29 times higher than the rest of the province, according to a report released by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

"It's almost a moral position that any society should do what it can to help people who find themselves in suicidal crisis," Hicks said.

"We know that if we can help people get through a period of distress, many of those people can deal with their issues with some help and lead happy lives."

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there.

​​​For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.

You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566, the Regina Mobile Crisis Services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition


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