Sarnia-Lambton is ahead of the pack when it comes to suicide prevention, says Denis Boileau who was recently hired as the region’s suicide prevention co-ordinator.
There are still obvious gaps in service and a need for more funding but a lot of good work is already being done here, Boileau said June 25 at a mental health forum hosted at Lambton College by MP Pat Davidson.
“This county is way beyond most counties, not just in Ontario, but across Canada,” said Boileau who has an extensive background in suicide prevention and training.
He was hired by the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in May on a one-year contract to assess what’s being done to prevent suicide and what still needs to be done.
The forum attracted about 50 mental health professionals and a few politicians to discuss how Sarnia-Lambton is tackling the difficult problem of suicide.
MPs in 308 jurisdictions across Canada are holding similar community “conversations” in order to gather the best ideas for suicide prevention and ultimately develop a national strategy.
Sarnia was the first community to hold a “308 Conversations” forum, but that was just good timing. It was not because there is a more critical problem here than elsewhere else, said several mental health officials.
On average, 11 people took their own lives in Sarnia-Lambton annually between 2000 and 2009, according to the most recent Lambton Health Unit stats.
Contrary to what many believe, there are no more suicides in Sarnia-Lambton than in the rest of the country, said Alan Stevenson, CEO of the local Canadian Mental Health Association.
“The media has suggested there is a suicide crisis in our community,” he said. “Evidence does not support that.”
Rick Shields of St. Clair Child and Youth agreed.
Media hype in the past five years has “set a tone” in this community that has contributed to a 350% increase in referrals of high risk and potentially suicidal youth, Shields said.
Mental health officials don’t want to brush the issue under the rug, they just want to ensure the message continues to be one of hope, he said.
Every year 3,900 Canadians take their own lives.
Suicide is the leading cause of injury-related fatalities in Canada and the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 34.
Just over 16% of students have reported fair to poor mental health, said Charlene Mahon, a Lambton College professor and crisis intervention worker.
The college has started The Jack Project – named for a Queen’s University student who killed himself – to boost student mental health. A mental health advisory board has been established and an online mental health “hub” is about to be launched.
Mahon did not downplay Sarnia’s challenge with suicide.
“In the last five years, Sarnia has been a community plagued by suicide, especially among youth,” she said. “…When youth are in the valleys of life, it’s very difficult to cope.” Aboriginal youth are particularly at risk, she said.
In the past few years, local school boards, Bluewater Health, the local Suicide Prevention Committee, Rebound and other agencies have dedicated people and dollars to preventing suicide. But the real challenge is finding more funding for mental health services and getting them to work together, said Boileau.
“We need to find the quickest way to get a person the help they need,” he said. “And let’s be honest, we do need more funding for early intervention.”
SIGNS TO WATCH FOR TO PREVENT A SUICIDE
If someone you know:
– Threatens suicide;
– Talks about wanting to die;
– Shows changes in behaviour, appearance or mood;
– Abuses drugs and/or alcohol;
– Deliberately injures themselves;
– Appears depressed, sad, withdrawn.
You can help:
– Stay calm;
– Let the person talk about their feelings;
– Be accepting; do not judge;
– Ask if the person is having suicidal thoughts;
– Take all threats of suicide seriously;
– Do not swear secrecy. Tell someone.
To reach the Distress Line, call 519-336-3000 or 1888-DISTRES.
Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868.
Source: Family Counselling Centre
– Cathy Dobson