Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to the importance this government places on mental health of Canadians and in particular on the prevention of suicide.
What is the face of suicide? Suicide is preventable. Many of those who attempt suicide want to live, but are overcome with grief or emotional pain and cannot find any other way to handle a situation that has become impossible to bear.
Most people who commit suicide give warning signs or hints of their intentions. Community-based organizations across our country help people in their jurisdictions learn how to recognize these signs and how to respond to them. Four out of five people who die by suicide have made at least one previous attempt. Suicide occurs across all age, economic, social and ethnic boundaries.
Statistics Canada's 2007 figures regarding suicide in Canada show it as one of the top 10 leading causes of death in our country, accounting for over 3,700 deaths. Males die by suicide more than three times as often as females, but females are three times more likely to attempt it than males. As well, the survey revealed that over 14% of Canadians have thought about suicide and more than 3% of Canadians have attempted suicide in their lifetimes.
Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest among elderly males, the current impact of suicide on society shows its increasing frequency among our youth. Worldwide it is now one of the top five leading causes of death among young people aged 15 to 34. In Canada in 2005, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 15 to 34, second only to accidents and unintentional injuries.
We are keenly aware that suicide rates are higher among certain populations, including aboriginal youth and Inuit living in northern Canada. That is why this government is investing in programs that address this important issue, such as the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.
Too many Canadian families have to deal with the anguish of losing a loved one to suicide. There is the social impact of losing a loved one to suicide as well. Suicide and suicide attempts have significant impacts on individuals, families and all of our communities. We can also see some similarities between mental health and suicide, as many of the risk and protective factors of suicide are the same as the problems and illnesses associated with mental health. Both have stigma attached to them that tend to curb open discussions and prevention efforts.
Suicide is caused by a number of medical and social factors including mental disorders, family violence and social isolation. These factors increase the likelihood of poor mental health which in turn can lead to suicidal behaviour. Because suicide has many faces and can impact society in a variety of ways, its prevention must involve all sectors including governments, non-government organizations, academia and the private sector.
There are many levels of government that work in various ways with suicide prevention. Several federal organizations including Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Veterans Affairs, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and the Canadian Forces are working to address suicide and mental health issues.
In the delivery of health care in their own jurisdictions provinces and territories are also tailoring programs and services that respond to the needs of their citizens. Collectively we need to promote positive mental health, intervene early and prevent risk factors for mental health problems which often lead to suicide and suicide attempts.
I am very proud that this government is taking leadership and fostering the partnerships with our multiple stakeholders. For example, in September 2010, the hon. Minister of Health, along with provincial and territorial ministers of health, endorsed the declaration on prevention and promotion. Through this endorsement our governments recognized positive mental health as a foundation for optimal overall health and well-being throughout a person's life. In addition to this agreement, the work of the federal, provincial and territorial Public Health Network places a priority on mental health promotion and mental illness prevention.
One of our government's accomplishments, one of the health sectors that I am particularly proud of, is the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Collaborating with governments, academia, business and other organizations to mobilize leadership and action is central to the commission's mandate.
The commission is presently working on a national mental health strategy. This strategy is expected to speak to suicide prevention as part of a comprehensive approach to mental health promotion and mental illness prevention in our country.
The Government of Canada also funds the commission to address the stigma associated with mental illness through their Opening Minds campaign. This initiative is meant to enhance the public's education through the mental health first aid initiative.
Through the mental health first aid strategy is a belief that it is critical to deal with physical emergencies quickly, but it is just as important not to neglect a mental health emergency. Mental health first aid refers to the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
For over four years the program has taught Canadians how to respond to mental health emergencies, enabling them to better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a colleague.
To date, well over 42,000 people have been trained across Canada. The program is available to anyone interested in learning mental health first aid, including employees such as human resource managers, teachers, counsellors, transit workers, nurses and police officers.
This initiative does not teach people how to be therapists, but it does teach how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help and guide a person towards appropriate professional help.
A basic instructor course is also offered, designed to equip those who want to train others in mental health first aid. An instructor course is specifically designed for people who work directly with our youth. Originating in Australia, the program has 505 instructors across Canada and is now available in 17 countries.
I am pleased to have the opportunity today to recognize some of the important and significant programs and activities in the country that are making a real difference in the lives of Canadians. Notably, several provinces and territorial governments, such as Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick, have established strategies to promote mental health and prevent mental illness and suicide.
The Nunavut suicide prevention strategy outlines plans and a common direction for the suicide prevention efforts of communities, organizations and governments in Nunavut. Demonstrating the need for and the value of working together, the strategy is a result of a partnership between the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Another important example is New Brunswick's provincial suicide prevention program. Connecting to Life is a strategy that coordinates suicide prevention activities and intervention services in the province. Community action, continuous education and inter-agency collaboration are central goals of this program.
The Alberta suicide prevention strategy is a 10-year plan that includes actions targeted both at the general populations and at identified priority groups.
In British Columbia, suicide prevention forms a key part of the province's 10-year plan to address mental health and substance abuse.
The government also recognizes, in addition to the provincial and territorial initiatives, the important contribution made by civil organizations such as the Centre for Suicide Prevention. The centre provides resources and training, including workshops and online courses, for professionals, caregivers and community members.
As well, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention plays a role in facilitating information sharing, advocating for policy development and supporting excellence in research and in service. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention is currently in the middle of its three-day national conference.
A broad array of community organizations also support individuals and families dealing with suicide and mental health problems. Notably, the Canadian Mental Health Association is a national network, with local and provincial branches carrying out public education and providing local support to individuals with mental health problems. Their mandate is to develop a mental health strategy for Canada, and through this the creation of opportunities such that the protective factors are enhanced and the risk factors of suicide are diminished.
There is a belief that by doing this, good mental health can be fostered and, wherever possible, the onset of mental health problems and illnesses can be prevented, thus reducing the number of suicides.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada works with key stakeholders and partners such as the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to address the issue of suicide. The work includes a focus on target populations that have high levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide. It also pays particular attention to youth suicide and suicide in the senior population. It works together with families and caregivers in recognition of the impact of suicide on families and communities.
The commission, whose members are currently developing their strategy, aims to reduce the number of suicides by improving suicide prevention training for front-line workers such as teachers, police and family doctors and by reducing mortality rates for people living with mental health problems and illnesses.
Through our government's funding, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has established a knowledge exchange centre to provide all sectors, stakeholders and the public with the information they need to address mental health and the risk factors that lead to mental health problems, such as suicide. It is working with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to enhance its work in areas such as establishing community practices; developing tools and resources for health care professionals, including crisis centre staff; overcoming challenges and barriers; and providing a space where health professionals are able to offer each other support.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada recognizes that suicide is a tragedy that leaves scars on families and communities.
There are many common risk factors. Over 90% of Canadians who die by suicide have experienced mental health problems and illnesses.
At a more fundamental level, our government also collects data on suicide through Statistics Canada. We use it to analyze and share information on mortality and morbidity, including figures on mental health in general.
The government also funds, along with the provinces and territories, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which produces reports on mental health and suicide-related topics.
Our government, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is pleased to support the work of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, along with other government-supported research. This leading-edge multidisciplinary team is making a significant contribution to the understanding of suicide and its risk factors.
Suicide is also an issue of global concern, and our government also monitors interesting developments at the international level in order to identify success stories that will further encourage and inspire our Canadian stakeholders at home. One particularly significant example is coming out of Scotland. Choose Life is a program in Scotland that has been implemented in a partnership with national and local bodies. This framework focuses on training and building skills while improving knowledge of good suicide prevention practices. It is similar to the Government of Canada's federal role in research and knowledge development and its related investments in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Statistics Canada.
Our government believes that the promotion of positive mental health and the prevention of health problems and illnesses are critical to suicide prevention. We also recognize the need to continue to share knowledge and information and to work collaboratively to make a difference in the mental health of Canadians and the prevention of suicide.
This is an important dialogue and an important issue, one that touches all of us and one in which we can all play a very important role.