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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 dave.

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

9:55 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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 Conservative Joy Smith

Thank you so very much.

We will now go to Mr. Strahl.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you very much.

It's good to be here. I'll echo Dr. Sellah's comments about International Women's Day. Certainly some of the most courageous women I've had the pleasure to meet have been witnesses here at this committee.

Denise, I put you in that category, certainly, today.

I'm going to try to get through this: I didn't have the pleasure of serving with Dave, but I know my family speaks very fondly of him and you.

I'll speak today as well for Ms. Block—who's lost her voice—as a Saskatchewan MP.

Dave had a lot of friends. He was well loved, and he certainly is missed.

Dave was in the system. It sounds like he did seek help and he did receive care. I don't know if he was ever hospitalized or anything for that care, but he wasn't one who avoided the system, and this kind of came out of nowhere.

Were there any gaps in that system? Dave was in it. Did you find any gaps in the system that we should be looking at as we examine the system, gaps that need to be filled?

10:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

I think some of that would certainly be outside the scope of the federal government. It was more a situation where, yes, he received treatment, but knowing the severity of what he was suffering with came too late. At a point when you lose hope, when the really great help....

If that great help had come at the beginning, I probably wouldn't be here today. But it was too late in the going, to the point where Dave had lost hope—unbeknownst to me; I'm trying to keep his hope up at all times and he's kind of putting a brave face on it.

There's one thing that I think would help early in the going. For many people who are depressed, medication is a good answer for them, and sometimes it's the only thing they need. For many other people, though, and I think Dave would fall into this category, having effective counselling and dealing with a psychologist or a counsellor for talk therapy is an integral part of the process.

That was the part that came too late for Dave.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

You obviously were dealing with the Saskatchewan medical system. I guess that's always the struggle on this health committee, to determine what is the role of the federal government when you look at these. Obviously the delivery in Saskatchewan is the responsibility of the Government of Saskatchewan; it's the same for British Columbia, where I'm from.

What role do you think the federal government can play to help us make sure that there are fewer situations like Dave's? Obviously education is an important part of it. Are there other roles you see specifically for the federal government to take as we tackle this issue?

10:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

I think it's the exact things that are targeted by this bill, actually: the public awareness about suicide, and not just depression and mental illness but also suicide, as well as providing this federal framework. I think it's so needed. There is great work done by people with organizations like this, and volunteers, and other types of organizations throughout the country, but if you don't have a federal framework, you don't have people relaying those best practices and stories so that everyone can benefit from them. And it's not just that we have a really great situation in this province, or in this community; a terrible one would also really benefit from the knowledge of what's going on there.

So that, from my understanding of it, would be the best role the federal government could play.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

You mentioned the golf tournament you had. Is there anything else planned for the future? Is there a Dave Batters foundation or anything like it that you're working with?

10:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

There's a bank account open, but it's depleted of funds right now, after we ran all the commercials. But, yes, I'm looking actually to have another golf tournament this year. Last year, we couldn't have it because a few of the people on the committee were extremely busy with different time commitments, one of them being the federal election. Then right when we got to the point where everyone had time, we had terrible weather in Saskatchewan last year, with lots of big rainstorms that totally flooded out a few of our courses. This year I'm hoping we can get back on track and resume that tournament, because it was such a great experience. It actually poured the day of the golf tournament part way through the day, but nobody cared. Everyone was just there for a great cause and to remember Dave, and it was such a good event.

I've also spoken to some large groups of people in Saskatchewan about Dave's story, including my church. They had a mother-daughter banquet, and they had 500 people at it. Ukrainian Catholics usually don't want to talk about these kinds of topics, but they came to ask me to speak at it. All the money they raised at that they put towards running the commercial for more time. So I did that.

I spoke to a bereavement group in Regina at Christmastime about how to have some hope for the holidays.

So, yes, I continue to do those kinds of things. I've done significant media in Saskatchewan about this topic and about our story. I think those kinds of things have really helped public awareness, and I want to continue that.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you very much.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joy Smith

Thank you, Mr. Strahl.

We'll now go to Dr. Morin.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you for your great presentations. The topic of study is a fairly emotional one.

My first question is for Ms. Jennifer Fodden.

You mentioned that the target clientele of your GLBT organization is mainly young people under the age of 26. This sub-population is made up of young people who may have difficulty accepting themselves because of their sexual orientation, their identity. It's often complicated by the fact that they are bullied, either at school, on the Internet, or in the street.

People on this committee may not know much about the difficulties that this sub-population experiences. Could you tell us what life is like for these GLBT youths who are bullied and who have difficulty accepting themselves?

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line

Jennifer Fodden

Thank you for your question.

We hear very commonly from young people who are struggling to find acceptance within themselves and from the members of their community. That can have a very profound impact on their mental health and the degree of hope they can hold onto for what life holds for them as they come into themselves and into their adult lives.

What I'd like to really emphasize to the committee is that it's not so much any one individual's actions that can have such a grievous impact on a person's sense of worth, but rather the attitudes of the community around the incident or around that person, where there's a benign neglect of the situation, where people turn a blind eye, people don't intervene or call a bully out on their behaviour to communicate to the person who's being targeted that in fact those ideas and ideals are not shared by the broader community. It's when school officials, other students, family members, and the community in general remain silent and don't intervene to let a young person know that they do have value, that they do have worth, and that as a community they can expect a life of their own design, that they can expect to experience love and a sense of value and opportunities. Those kinds of interventions, simple as they might sound, can be really enormously helpful. That's the kind of support we provide.

We operate out of Toronto, but we serve youth throughout Ontario, so we get phone calls from remote communities, where a person feels like the only individual they've ever met who might identify as lesbian or gay or bisexual or trans. They can hear one person 1,000 kilometres away say to them, “You're not abnormal. It's okay to experience the thoughts and feelings and desires you have.” Just to hear that person at a remote location say that and say, “There will be opportunities for you in this life”—and I can say that because I know, because I've been there myself—can be enormously powerful.

In terms of broader social change, we need to create a climate in schools where it's understood to be unacceptable to communicate homophobic and transphobic values on the playground or in the classrooms.

Certainly, those broader initiatives for social change help young people to understand that they do live in a country, in a society, where hate and oppression won't be tolerated.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you.

My next question focuses on what in some way is the negative consequence of the lack of intervention for GLBT youths. Ms. Batters said that, between age 30 and 50, some men experience mental health problems, especially GLBT individuals. Men or women lead a double life, never accept themselves, despite all these—

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joy Smith

Dr. Morin, you have 20 seconds.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Could you tell us a little bit about that reality?

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line

Jennifer Fodden

Certainly. Suicidal ideation is not the territory of the young alone. For individuals who are adults, who are living a life where they're working hard to protect what they feel is an unacceptable secret about themselves, it takes an enormous amount of energy and mental strain. Often we communicate to individuals that they have to choose between a sense of belonging in one community or another.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joy Smith

Thank you, Ms. Fodden.

I'm sorry, you've gone over time.

Mr. Gill.