Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to describe the concrete actions the government is taking to help aboriginal communities and families address the tragic issue of youth suicide. It is an important topic that we have been discussing and one to which members from all sides of the House have been sensitive.
Aboriginal populations in Canada are facing many unique challenges. That is why our government is not using a one-size-fits-all approach and is funding a variety of programs and services that target their unique needs.
As members of the House know too well many first nations, their families and communities face widespread social and economic challenges, poor health outcomes and, perhaps most tragically, the loss of children and youth to suicide.
Aboriginal people continue to have significantly poorer health outcomes than other Canadians. For example, heart disease and diabetes rates among aboriginal people are considerably higher than the rates among the non-aboriginal population. Tuberculosis rates among the Inuit have recently been reported as being 186 times higher than the rate among Canadian born non-aboriginal people.
Possibly the most distressing are the aboriginal suicide rates, which are among the highest in the world. The rate among first nations is 4.3 times higher than the national average. Inuit regions show a rate more than 11 times higher. It is significant.
Unlike suicide rates for non-aboriginal people, rates of aboriginal suicide are highest among the youth. Injury and suicide are the leading causes of death for aboriginal youth. The well-being of this demographic group is particularly pressing considering that aboriginal youth under 20 years of age account for over 40% of the aboriginal population and this figure is rising. The health of these youth literally represents the future health of aboriginal communities. Helping aboriginal young people and preventing aboriginal youth suicide is and must continue to be a public priority.
Our government is taking action on aboriginal youth suicide. In the House last year, the hon. Minister of Finance tabled a budget that included nearly $1 billion in investments for aboriginal people. This included $285 million for aboriginal health programs and $75 million to extend the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy until 2015.
The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy exists in order to ensure that aboriginal families and communities have access to critical supports in order to prevent and respond to the most tragic of problems.
This strategy was developed in close partnership with first nations and Inuit people. It is based on a global review of evidence-based suicide prevention approaches. Health Canada worked not only with key first nations and Inuit national and regional organizations, but directly with aboriginal youth in order to ensure this important investment was relevant and would target those who would need it most.
The strategy incorporates the best available evidence with respect to youth suicide prevention.
Experience and research show that culturally-based services are important for positive health outcomes among first nations and Inuit communities, their families and for individuals. Research has also shown a strong link between cultural identity and youth suicide prevention.
The strategy recognizes that the greatest impact on youth suicide prevention comes from community-driven programming developed according to the unique needs and strengths of the people, and they have many strengths.
The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy focuses on building coping and life skills, and other known factors that can protect youth against suicide, including family and social supports, cultural ties, youth leadership and engagement, and school performance.
The strategy has four main elements.
First, it focuses on primary prevention. These are activities which improve overall mental health at the community level. These activities promote an increased awareness of suicide risk and protective factors within families and communities.
Second, the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy supports first nations and Inuit communities that are most vulnerable to suicide.
Community-based activities are known to have the greatest impact on youth and on youth suicide prevention. The evidence indicates that these approaches produce longer term solutions that move at-risk communities toward better mental health and wellness. Based on this evidence, the strategy supports over 150 community-based prevention projects that target youth who are at an elevated risk of suicide.
The results of these projects are positive. For example, the canoe journey project is yielding tremendous results in several coastal communities in British Columbia. It brings together youth and elders and engages the whole community in traditional activities while building critical life skills and resilience. Participants have described this project as a life-changing experience.
Third, the strategy supports communities by strengthening crisis response capacity in the event of a suicide-related crisis. In many instances this includes partnering with provinces, territories and other sectors to address community needs.
The fourth component of the strategy is the development of new knowledge. This includes work with communities and researchers to build effective approaches to prevent youth suicide. Its partners have included the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the University of Victoria and McGill University. Some of this research is truly groundbreaking and is helping to inform important programs across the country.
Through all of this work the strategy works closely with national aboriginal organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
I am pleased to report that the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy is demonstrating measurable success. Communities are reporting that the youth participating in suicide prevention projects demonstrate an increased sense of hope and optimism as well as more pride, discipline and confidence.
We know that people with mental illness issues are often stigmatized and there can be a great reluctance to discuss suicide. It is encouraging to note that the strategy has led to an increase in the number of first nations and Inuit community members who are willing to discuss the issue of suicide.
That is not all. Projects funded through the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy are leading to improved school attendance and performance, the development of safe and supportive community environments, as well as fostering in youth a sense of having skills and being able to contribute to society.
The strategy has also increased the effectiveness of community mental health workers. For example, suicide prevention training funded through the strategy has contiributed to an increased confidence among community workers who intervene during a crisis and and a decrease in feelings of powerlessness.
As a result of this strategy, front-line workers are better prepared to detect, prevent and intervene in the event of a suicide crisis. Following training, 84% of the workers said they were more attentive to the signs of suicide.
In addition to the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy, our government continues to invest in important long-standing programs that are critical to the long term well-being and health of first nations and Inuit. Due to the success of these initiatives, Canada is considered by many to be a world leader in terms of its innovative and proven aboriginal programs.
For example, the national youth solvent abuse program has been recognized internationally as an effective and holisitic interdisciplinary treatment program for youth.
Another successful program in many aboriginal communities is the national native alcohol and drug abuse program. It is an excellent example of a community-based and community-determined program. It is also a leader in incorporating community, cultural and holistic approaches into prevention and treatment programming. Building on the strengths of this program, we are investing $30.5 million in addiction services for first nations and Inuit as part of the national anti-drug strategy.
Health Canada is working in close partnership with the National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation and many other foundations to help address this serious problem.