First Nations hit hard by 'suicide contagion'

A Sudbury clinical psychologist says young people are more likely to consider suicide if they know of someone their age who has taken their own life.

'Every kid at a school should get counseling,' says Sudbury clinical psychologist

The phenomenon of suicide contagion can be even more acute on First Nations reserves. (istock)

First Nation reserves are hit disproportionately hard by the phenomenon known as suicide contagion, says a clinical psychologist in Sudbury.

The executive director at Sudbury's Child Family Centre, Bertrand Guindon, is responding to a new study that suggests teenagers are at greater risk of attempting suicide if they know of someone else who has taken his or her own life.

Guindon said the phenomenon can be even more acute on First Nations reserves.

"As recently as two or three weeks ago, I was chatting with one of my colleges in the northwestern Ontario area and he was referring to 11 deaths of young people in a relatively short period of time," he said.

Neskantaga First Nation in the northwest declared a state of emergency in April after two suicides in less than a week, which brought the toll to seven deaths and 20 suicide attempts in the community in the past year.

Guidon said it is an unfortunate, but very real, phenomenon.

Hospitalization an option

The key is, when a young person commits suicide, a team of psychologists need to be called in to help deal with the problem and mitigate any other suicide attempts.

"Be available to the most vulnerable kids who are in the building," he said.

Guidon explained that usually the most vulnerable youth will "self-identify."

"If someone needs to talk individually, counselors will be available to them."

If the child is acutely suicidal, and talks about wanting to join his or her friend, then action would be taken, with hospitalization as an option, added Guidon.

The study Guindon refers to was published May 21 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study, which was co-authored by Dr. Ian Colman, Canada Research Chair in mental health epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, and Sonja Swanson from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, used data on 22,064 young people aged 12 to 17 from across Canada.