Suicide prevention: mental health workers, politicians demand Canada-wide action plan

There are calls on the federal government to adopt a national action plan on suicide prevention.
NDP MP Charlie Angus says Indigenous communities in northern Ontario have been "ground zero" for a mental health crisis sweeping the country. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

There are calls on the federal government to adopt a national action plan on suicide prevention.

Timmins—James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus made his own demand on Thursday at the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council Emergency Summit in Timmins.

Angus says he will travel across the country to consult with mental health organizations to develop a nation-wide set of best practices for suicide prevention and care, with a significant focus on First Nations.

Angus then hopes to bring the results to Parliament for debate.

"I think we have a really good chance this time at moving the yardstick on this issue," he says.

Angus explains that, "Northern Ontario and Treaty 9 have been ground-zero for the suicide crisis, we've seen tragedy after tragedy."

But he adds that a lack Indigenous-based mental health services is a Canada-wide issue.

Action plan is long overdue

For Marcia Manitowabi, such a plan is long overdue.

She's the youth social worker at Sudbury's Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre.

For the past year, she's also incorporated Indigenous methods and teachings through her private practice, Wabanung Wholistic Journey Counselling. As a mental health provider, the services are covered under Health Canada.

"Yeah there's a lot of great [mental health] programs, but sometimes we have the difficulty of actually getting these parents to participate because they have that fear: 'Are they going to call children's aid on me?'" she says.

Manitowabi often travels to the homes of her clients or their families. She explains this is often a necessary step.

"It's that fear and shame of what they've been through, through their own intergenerational trauma that makes it difficult for them to participate sometimes," she adds.

Manitowabi says better funding, access to elders, and spaces for family and sharing circles are all part of the solution.

She adds there aren't enough education programs to bring Indigenous issues and best practices to light for existing health providers and schools

Most of all, she says there's a need to train more First Nations mental health professionals such as herself.

"I find there's still a lot of that racial stigma in this area [Sudbury] where we're not really valued. We do have cultural programs in the schools, but we need to have more," says Manitowabi.