'It scares the crap out of me,' school counsellor worried not enough support for northern teen suicides
About 20 suicide attempts since October in same area
Barry Chalifoux says the province and Ottawa are not doing enough to help with the wave of teen suicides in northern Saskatchewan.
Chalifoux is the prevention and intervention team leader in the counselling department at the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School, about 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. The First Nation is adjacent to the village of Loon Lake.
"We've got four on-staff counsellors at the school. Even with that many counsellors, we're still getting a little bit overloaded," he said.
He says there are three teens in Meadow Lake Hospital right now recovering from suicide attempts. A fourth teen attempted suicide Friday morning.
"It scares the crap out of me," he said."Every day I'm worried to read messages on Facebook. And every day I'm afraid to ignore a message."
Chalifoux estimates 20 people between Loon Lake and the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation have attempted suicide since October. Five teenage girls in northern Saskatchewan took their own lives in October, and sixth last month.
One of the teens was from the school where he works.
Chalifoux said the school has been trying to get funding to expand its youth programs to evenings and weekends. He said that he's been in contact with federal and provincial officials, but that no help has been given.
"We are open to anything," he said.
Kathy Willerth is the director of mental health and addiction services for the province's Ministry of Health.
She said the province recognizes that suicide is a serious concern. It has a round-the-clock health line staffed by mental health professionals that people in crisis can call.
It is also in contact with the northern health region, and works closely with Health Canada to co-ordinate aid efforts.
But, she said that when it comes to actual staffing and money, the province follows Health Canada's lead.
CBC News requested information from Health Canada who provided a response via email.
We are open to anything.- Barry Chalifoux
"Heath Canada will continue to provide mental health crisis counselling through the Non-Insured Health Benefits program. We have also confirmed that support is available, should it be required, from the Mental Wellness Team from Meadow Lake Tribal Council," the email said.
"Sixteen new therapists have been added to the Mental Health Therapists List of approved counselling providers under Non-Insured Health Benefits program. Nine of these therapists will travel to the communities to provide services, if requested by the community."
Chalifoux said that Health Canada contacted him late Friday after CBC News made its inquiries. He said that the First Nation will be contacting Ottawa and asking for help from the therapists.