A call to action to prevent suicides and improve child and youth mental health: statement from CMHA and CASP

Anytime a young person takes his or her own life, it’s a tragedy. But in instances where there are multiple lives lost in such a short period of time, it’s devastating to communities. As with the suicides in Attawapiskat First Nation and Pimickamak Cree Nation, we are deeply saddened by the suicides in Woodstock and the terrible impact they are having on families, friends, teachers and the community.

We need to attend to this grief. We also need to attend to prevention.

Suicide prevention is a priority for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) across the country. CMHA and CASP recognize the strong work that countless people and community-based organizations undertake each day to offer help and support for people who have suicidal thoughts. But more needs to be done.

Suicide is a serious public health problem and is associated with a number of factors and life experiences. We need to be very vigilant in all of our communities. Strategies for preventing suicide involve many different stakeholders and different approaches.

We know through research that a combination of preventive approaches can help increase chances of people seeking the help they need. What is needed now is investment so Canadians – and especially children and youth – can get the help they need when they need it.

Despite investments in early childhood education and public health initiatives by governments across Canada, far too many children and youth do not have timely and equal access to mental health supports, services and treatment to help maintain their mental health or increase their chances of recovery. Investing in evidence-based prevention strategies for children and youth can meaningfully reduce the risk of serious mental health problems and illnesses developing in adulthood.

CASP, in cooperation with other mental health organizations, has been working on a suicide prevention strategy for 13 years. In 2005, their Blueprint document was hand delivered to the Minister of Health of the time. While provinces have used the Blueprint as a guide in developing their own strategies, to date, the federal government has not adopted the strategy.

What Canadians need now is a national suicide prevention strategy. Canada remains one of the few industrialized countries that has yet to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the United Nations to establish a national suicide prevention strategy. The upcoming Health Accord negotiations are an opportunity to ensure that the Federal Government gives mental health the same importance as physical health. CMHA and CASP are calling for an integrated and collaborative strategy on suicide prevention for all Canadians.

Let’s better support community-based organizations, school boards, and families, so that they can better support our children and youth. Let’s reduce the chance of another tragedy like Woodstock, Attawapiskat First Nation and Pimickamak Cree Nation. Investing in mental health supports and services will prevent further tragedies, and will allow our children and youth to thrive.

For more information on mental health supports, programs and services in your community, please visit cmha.ca and suicideprevention.ca.

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