Saskatchewan

Sask. govt rejects call from families, Opposition for mental health committee

Three families with loved ones who have died by suicide say the current system in Saskatchewan is failing too many, and a bipartisan special committee looking at solutions could help.

Families affected by suicide say not enough being done

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili, far left, and NDP MLA Doyle Vermette, second from left, are joined by families whose loved ones who have died by suicide at the Saskatchewan legislative building on Tuesday. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Party government has struck down an NDP motion that would have created a bipartisan special committee to address mental health and addictions.

Opposition NDP MLA Doyle Vermette, who sponsored the private member's bill, has stood in the legislative assembly to demand further action to prevent suicide in the province for the last 21 sittings. 

"Members on that side have suffered. I've heard them say they want to work. I heard the minister say he wants to work. Here's going to be their opportunity," Vermette told reporters prior to Tuesday's question period.

Government members, however, did not give their support for the all-party committee.

The minister responsible for mental health and addictions care, Everett Hindley, said the government's Pillars for Life plan has an oversight committee. 

"It is the appropriate avenue. It is experts in this field, those that are currently involved in the programs and initiatives currently available in this province," Hindley said. 

"That's also an avenue for people to provide some advice and insight into where there's perhaps some gaps and where they'd like to see some additional support from the government of Saskatchewan."

 In April 2021, lawmakers unanimously passed the Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act, which had been voted down twice previously by government MLAs.

Preliminary data shows 34 people died by suicide in the first four months of 2022.

Families say not enough being done

Three families with loved ones who have died by suicide joined Vermette and Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili at the legislature Tuesday.

They shared their experiences navigating a mental health care system, they say, continues to fail people.

"It's almost impossible to get help professionally, unless you actually have attempted suicide and have to be taken to the emergency room," said Jude Ratt, whose 33-year-old daughter, Betty, died by suicide in December 2021.

"Even then, they fix you up, put a few Band-Aids on you and let you go without any release plan. It's not acceptable at all." 

There is a lack of psychiatrists and counsellors in the province. Data from the government shows a nine-month wait for children and youth in Saskatoon to see a psychiatrist.

Chris Ball and his wife, Wanda, lost their 16-year-old son, Kye, in 2017. Chris Ball said the provincial government needs to make more of an effort to speak with families. 

"All of us here that have lost young, young children. They just throw Mickey Mouse amounts of money at it, and then they think they're done," he said. 

Marilyn Irwin lost her son, Macrae May, to suicide in 2019. She said she's been working hard to bring awareness to suicide prevention, addictions and mental health.

She said she wants to send the message "that we must do more. That we are failing our young people and our citizens. That we must have safe communities for all people."

She added that last September, she emailed Minister Hindley about the suicide prevention bill and offered her help. Irwin said neither the minister nor his office responded.

Marilyn Irwin holds a photo of her son, Macrae May, who died by suicide in 2019, while speaking with reporters about challenges to suicide prevention on Tuesday. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Saskatchewan has decreased its funding for suicide prevention this year.

The Saskatchewan Party government allocated $1 million this year toward its Pillars For Life plan — a decrease of $200,000 compared with the previous two years, according to Ministry of Health data.

Hindley previously told The Canadian Press that less funding has been provided this year because the program no longer has startup costs.

The Ministry of Health has said the bulk of the Pillars for Life funding has gone to suicide prevention campaigns and to Roots of Hope, a community-driven project to try to reduce suicides in Saskatchewan's north.

Saskatchewan's coroner reported 204 suicides in 2021, an increase of five from the year before, when the government first introduced Pillars For Life.

Data shows Indigenous people are disproportionately affected. They made up 41 per cent of all suicides in the province last year, despite representing just over 16 per cent of the population in a 2016 census.


If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available. For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.

You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.

You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.

You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniella Ponticelli is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan. She has worked in print, broadcast and digital journalism in Manitoba and Saskatchewan since 2012. Get in touch with Daniella at daniella.ponticelli@cbc.ca or on Twitter @dponticelliTV.

With files from The Canadian Press

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