Evidence of meeting #33 for Health in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was suicide.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Dammy Damstrom-Albach  President, Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
  • Jennifer Fodden  Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line
  • Denise Batters  As an Individual
  • Brian Mishara  Director, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia, Université du Québec à Montréal, As an Individual
  • Marnin Heisel  Associate Professor and Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Western Ontario
  • Clerk of the Committee  Mrs. Mariane Beaudin

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you. I'd like to invite....

9:50 a.m.

Associate Professor and Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Western Ontario

Dr. Marnin Heisel

I might add a few comments as well, speaking as a researcher and as an empiricist. Without clear data, we don't know where we are now. If we don't know the scope of the problem, the full range of the problem now, how will we know if we've had a positive effect or if we've had no effect whatsoever?

Really, in order to be able to assess and then demonstrate the effectiveness of whatever it is we do with our strategies, our approaches, our framework, we have to have a good sense of where we are. And that requires better surveillance, better data collection than we have now.

9:50 a.m.

Director, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia, Université du Québec à Montréal, As an Individual

Prof. Brian Mishara

I could just add that Canada is now moving in the right direction in terms of knowledge application. There's a big emphasis at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research on knowledge application.

The issue, again, is leadership and knowledgeable leadership. The example is that there's $300,000 that I feel is wasted, with good intentions to do some literature reviews, which already exist and which other people have done in the last year. It's just a question of not making strategic decisions in leadership.

Canada exports its expertise in suicide prevention. When the United States government, which supports a national network of suicide prevention help lines, was looking to have those evaluated, our university in Quebec got the mandate to do this, and from our offices in Quebec we listened to 2,611 telephone calls to stress centres across the United States.

But we don't have a national network in Canada to evaluate, and the government does not support such a network. It's a question that whatever funds are already out there should be used strategically to do things that will have an impact. As I mentioned, a lot of the things we can do don't cost anything.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you, Dr. Mishara. Those are very good comments.

I will now go to Mr. Brown.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Denise, it's great to have you before the health committee. I had the pleasure of sitting on the health committee with Dave during my first term for a few years, and he was always hilarious. He always made meetings entertaining, regardless of the subject. It certainly is a tremendous loss to not have him.

I know you mentioned that he talked about stigma, and that seems to be one of the biggest obstacles when we discuss mental health.

I had the pleasure of attending a mental health meeting in Barrie last week because they're planning a golf tournament fundraiser in June, where they're going to have Shayne Corson, the former hockey player, talk about his depression as a means to.... Their slogan is “Let's Talk”; there needs to be more discussion around mental health. My question is this. What can we do to encourage those discussions? Obviously dialogue is going to help to bring down stigma.

I was thinking back to last summer. I know Mark Strahl mentioned Rick Rypien's death at our last meeting. I know there were also Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak who were front-page stories. If there's a silver lining in those tragedies, it's that it put more awareness than I can recollect on mental health. It was a front-page story for several days in the Toronto area with Wade Belak. It shocked people, because you saw people who were successful, talented, like Dave, who you'd have never thought in your wildest dreams would be suffering from mental health challenges.

What do you think we can do, as a federal government, to try to break down this stigma in particular, to make people more comfortable with having those conversations and asking those questions and seeking help?

9:55 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

I was mentioning earlier, when Ms. Davies asked me a question, that in recent years, stigma around depression and mental illness has seemed to be improving. But what I forgot to mention at the time was that while that is improving, I'd say that stigma related to suicide is kind of the final frontier of stigma.

What our family did was be very open about the fact that it was suicide. We issued a press release when we announced that Dave had died. The press release said that it was by suicide. We didn't try to sort of hide from that or wait for a report or something like that. Plus, the Prime Minister came to Dave's funeral and spoke about depression and suicide in his speech but also about Dave's life, because sometimes when people die by suicide, it becomes only about their deaths. You kind of forget about their lives. I think it's really important to remember their lives too.

When those hockey players' deaths happened this summer, the Rick Rypien one especially hit me hard, personally, because he played junior hockey in Regina, where we live. Dave and I, I know, would have gone to see him play many times when he played there and in Moose Jaw. And to think about this poor kid....

They had some sort of YouTube video or something like that about one of the last interviews he gave right before he went on a kind of leave of absence, or maybe right after he came back from a leave of absence from the NHL. Just watching him you could see that he was struggling to have hope, but he was trying to keep it together. To think that it had such a sad ending was terrible.

I think it is really necessary when people like that, who people can relate to, people like Dave.... I think some people, when Dave passed away, might have wondered if that guy was really the happy-go-lucky, friendly person everyone saw. Or was that a mask he was wearing to kind of hide this troubled, depressed individual? No, that was Dave. He was happy. Just the last year and a half of his life was when all these medical issues made a happy life tumble down so quickly.

Having those kinds of people and linking it.... You know, there's a lot of openness now about depression and mental illness, but not so much about suicide. We can't forget that suicide is the unfortunate consequence of depression and mental illness. All these groups are being very open with Let's Talk and that sort of thing but then are wanting to shy away from suicide. We should not shy away from the fact that it is the possible result if it goes untreated or is improperly treated.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Are there any help mechanisms you felt should have existed that would have helped someone like Dave?

10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

I think, certainly, the type of awareness that exists now about depression and mental illness didn't really exist when Dave was coming out with that story in the fall of 2008. I think he was kind of a trailblazer and was one of the first people who came forward who was currently suffering with it, as I said before.

During that Bell Let's Talk Day, Michael Landsberg did an hour-long show. He had a few different sports heroes, including Clara Hughes and Stéphane Richer. Stéphane Richer was the one who really hit home with me. When I watched that show that night it was bittersweet, because I was really pleased to see that these people were coming forward and being so open. Stéphane Richer admitted in that interview that after he had just won a Stanley Cup, he was in the Stanley Cup parade, and four days later he attempted suicide. If that interview had been on four years ago, and Dave had seen that, I think that might have made a difference for somebody like him, because he would have been like “Yes, okay, somebody gets it. Somebody I can relate to understands what this is like, and I'm not the only one suffering this terrible disease that I can't talk about and that no one will understand.”

10 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Brian, you mentioned there not being a national network in Canada. Are there other jurisdictions that you believe are implementing this appropriately? Are there other countries we can look to as examples? It is an open question.

10 a.m.

Director, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia, Université du Québec à Montréal, As an Individual

Prof. Brian Mishara

The United States subsidizes a national network and is also improving the quality of telephone help lines. Many European countries, as part of their national suicide prevention strategies, subsidize a national network with one phone number that anyone can call any time to be connected with help. It's a component of most of the 30-some countries that have national suicide prevention strategies.

10 a.m.

President, Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Dammy Damstrom-Albach

If you're curious, I would also encourage you to look at Scotland's national suicide prevention strategy, which is called Choose Life. It has focused very specifically on strengthening resiliency and on populations at risk, but also particularly on reducing stigma by talking very openly about suicide and providing training and support to gatekeepers, the general public, clinicians and service providers, people who are working in substance abuse, and people who are engaged in any of the work around areas of vulnerability for the population.

They've taken a very positive focus by naming their strategy Choose Life, and they have those linkages between their national government, their local governments, and community agencies that are all working together with this strategy. It's become a very public thing. It's reduced the rate of suicide in Scotland by 14%.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you so much.

I hate to cut you off, but I've let each of you go over time, and we have to be mindful.

We're now about to go into our second round of Qs and As, and they're five minutes. To make you aware, they're cut down by two minutes. I want you to know that at 10:30 I will be suspending the meeting for a moment because we're going into committee business for 15 minutes on some very important motions.

Can we begin, please, with Dr. Sellah?

March 8th, 2012 / 10 a.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Allow me, as chair of the women's caucus, to take this opportunity to wish all the women here a happy International Women's Day.

I would like to dive right into the matter. My question is for Professor Mishara. I find that you hit the bull's eye, you read my thoughts. We know that in Canada, some 3,700 people commit suicide every year, and 463 of those individuals are between the ages of 15 and 24. We know that a death isn't declared a suicide unless the person had clearly stated beforehand that he or she intended to commit suicide. It's even more tragic when we know that this rate is probably much higher.

In addition, more women than men commit suicide. This is something I'd like to bring up with the specialist, Dr. Heisel, afterwards.

You said that several countries have unfortunately been ahead of Canada in creating a national strategy. In your opinion, what is preventing us from adopting a national strategy here, in Canada? That's my first question.

And Ms. Fodden, you spoke about social attitudes. I am in full agreement with you. Know that if I'm talking like this, it's because I am a doctor by training. We know that, unfortunately, society does nothing at all when it comes to social attitudes toward minorities, regardless of the minority, be it sexual, cultural or something else.

Let's take the example of Ms. Batters. She spoke about her husband, who was very joyful and held a high-ranking position. I can tell you that, even in the medical community, people suffer in silence because society does nothing to demystify the issue, unfortunately. I think it's an illness because it has been scientifically proven that there's a deficit of certain serotonin and adrenalin receptors, and so on.

I find it appalling that the attitude we have is not aimed at demystifying mental health problems and, as a result, suicide.

My question is for both of you. Dr. Heisel, could you tell me why women's suicide attempts are more likely to be unsuccessful, whereas when men attempt suicide, it's fatal?

10:05 a.m.

Director, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia, Université du Québec à Montréal, As an Individual

Prof. Brian Mishara

I will provide a brief answer to your question about what is preventing the creation of a national strategy in Canada: it's a lack of political willingness. One of the problems is that there aren't enough people to demand this kind of strategy, because of the stigma related to suicide in our society. It's only recently that people have dared admit that they were suicidal or that they needed help. Because the demands are so few, measures in that respect are considered less profitable than others, politically.

The prevention of mental health problems and intervention are inevitable when we talk about suicide prevention, but they are not the whole strategy. There are many other measures specific to suicide. That's why we need a national strategy.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you so very much.

We will now go to Mr. Strahl.