Canada desperately needs a national suicide action plan

It’s no secret that suicide is a top ten leading cause of death in Canada but more people should be aware that it rates second among young people.  In some First Nations communities those numbers rise especially in remote, rural, and isolated areas.  Despite these sobering statistics Canada remains as one of the only developed nations in the world that does not have a national suicide prevention plan.  That is why New Democrats are proposing one to fill that void.

That is happening by way of a motion before parliament calling for a whole of government approach to reducing suicide by enacting a national public health surveillance program for suicide prevention; a commitment to priorities articulated by Indigenous representative organizations; best practice guidelines for prevention and care; national training standards and media knowledge tools, among other provisions. What is clear is that this is not a call for more study.  It is a call for a commitment to work and put resources in place.

For years MPs have consistently called for a suicide prevention strategy and the fact that we are still discussing the idea can be seen as disheartening. There is nothing partisan about the issue but it hasn’t gained the traction needed to receive a federal response.  In the absence of that we are losing people on a daily and weekly basis across the country.  What further proof is needed to implement a strong plan that addresses the gaps in data collection, social factors, and special challenges for different communities, including Indigenous communities to help curb the rate of suicide?

Suicide isn’t just a public health issue it is far more complex than that.  There are social and community issues at play as well, which is why any measures that make progress will require a number of components. But if anyone doubts that suicide rates can be reduced, Quebec offers an example of what can be done. That province introduced a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy that cut the province’s suicide rate by a third, and the youth suicide rate by over 50%.

This shows there is a working model of what can be done to prevent suicides. It gives us hope that we can save lives and keep more families from being torn apart if we work together, across parties and across jurisdictions. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to think that an all-of-Canada response could be as effective as Quebec’s strategy.

Another model that can help build a strong federal plan is Nunavut’s Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan which is working towards solutions for a population that experiences suicide at a rate 10 – 25% higher than the rest of Canada.  Nunavut’s action plan defines commitments, outcomes and actions for the period of 2017-2022.  Even with plans like this in place, a federal initiative will help by sewing together regional efforts. 

In the meantime, New Democrats are hoping to build a national conversation by travelling the country to engage people, organizations, and community leaders on this critical issue.  At the heart of this will be an attempt to turn the discussion from one of despair to one of hope. But keeping that hope alive and saving lives requires everyone’s involvement and support, and must include the Government of Canada.