Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Etobicoke North.
The motion today frames the issue of suicide as more than a personal tragedy but as a serious public health issue. That, perhaps, is what we want to talk about. I do not think anyone in this Parliament today would say that suicide is not important. I do not think anyone would say that this is not a real issue that we should all care about. I think we all do.
What we are trying to talk about is that this is something that requires the same kind of initiative that was undertaken when we looked at the Canadian partnership against cancer, which was to encourage, fund and support coordination of cancer care in Canada.
Cancer is a physical disease but perhaps the federal government could bring about a supporting and coordinating structure. Given that suicide crosses every age group, ethnic group, gender and socio-economic lines, it is a number one issue. When we know that it is the third leading cause of death for adult males in Canada, we need to look upon this as an urgent and a serious public health problem that requires this kind of federal leadership to bring it together.
The thing about suicide is that it has been hidden in the shadows for far too long. Everyone is afraid to talk about suicide. The reason is that people believe that if we talk about it, it will encourage others to commit suicide. Everyone talks about the contagion of suicide, the copycat of suicide, but we well know that when we talk about it and discuss the suicidal ideation, the idea, the thought of suicide crossed one's mind at some point in time is not unusual.
In fact, 42% of adults say that the thought of suicide has crossed their mind within the last five days. We know this is something we think about. However, what are the multiple causes that come to bear on this issue that we need to look at and pull together?
Many provinces have anti-suicide strategies and some do not. The point is that this whole issue has been fragmented across the country. It depends on what weight certain provinces put on it, but if we can deal with cancer as a physical ailment, look at a pan-Canadian strategy for cancer and fund it federally, then we need to be able to talk about the fact that suicide needs to be treated in the same manner.
As a physician, it saddens me that I do not know enough about suicide. I have had patients who have committed suicide and patients who have attempted suicide. I sometimes felt powerless because I was not able to see the early warning signs and symptoms that I should have been able to recognize. We know that many people who are successful in committing suicide or who have attempted suicide are often people who, on the surface, seem to be successful and bubbly, people we would never think of.
We need to do a lot of work on this issue. With a pan-Canadian strategy, we could look at the issue of research. There are so many factors that lead to the issue of suicide.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is doing some work on this and it says that there may be some genetic factors. It may very well be that we need to look at this from a genome point of view. There may be some genetic components here.
Sometimes there may be an underlying mental illness or an underlying disability, whether it is a mental disability or not, where people feel that they cannot be normal. They do not well at school. Maybe they have dyslexia or a learning disability. They are afraid. They do not want to speak about it. They go through life feeling unnatural and abnormal.
The high rates, five times the normal rate of suicide in Canada, are among aboriginal youth and seven times more among Inuit youth. We see it five times more among people within the LGBT community, especially youth in the LGBT community.
We know that one part of the issue of suicide is the psychological component. It is the concept that if one is different, one must be ashamed of the difference. Sometimes it is the hopelessness of it all combined with bullying. We know that 350,000 episodes of bullying occur every month in this country, and some of it can lead to suicide.
We know that suicide is impulsive. We know, for instance, that somebody may be thinking about suicide for the biological, social or psychological reasons that cause suicide attempts to occur, but sometimes it is impulsive. Seventy per cent of Canadians who had thought about or attempted suicide say that they attempted suicide an hour after a trigger pushed them over the limit. Some 25% have said that within five minutes after a trigger pushed them over the limit, they actually attempted suicide.
I think the problem is that we do not see mental illness as a real problem. Unless it is a psychosis like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, there is a tendency to think that mental illness is an issue of personal will. It is a pejorative thing that one cannot cope or that it is psychological. The term “psychological” alone is pejorative. It means that a person is less capable of coping, and we know that is not true.
As I said before, we know there are biological, social and psychological factors. If we someone came to us, perhaps a friend, and said that when they ran or when something happened, they got a left-sided chest pain, we would tell them to go and see a doctor because it might be a sign of heart disease. However, when someone tells us that they are incapable of coping or when we see that they suffer from a mental problems or psychological issues, we think it is something to ignore and that those people have less will power than we do or are less able to cope with their problems. However, we know that this is not true.
If a person went to emergency as an attempted suicide, triage would cause them to be seen immediately, just as with a chest pain. The difference is that if the person with a chest pain had a cardiogram that showed an early sign of an infarction in the heart muscle, that person would be immediately admitted. They would be given a bed and follow-up. The follow-up would continue, and the person would have multiple tests.
However, a person who goes into hospital for attempted suicide is taken care of only in the sense that their stomach is pumped or whatever is needed to keep them alive is done, but there are no treatment beds, or very few. There is no place to send them. There are no referrals. We do not have enough health care professionals. Psychologists are not covered under the Canada Health Act, yet they are an essential part of this issue.
When we look at the problem of suicide, we need to look at how to link all these pieces to fit together. That is why we need federal leadership: to pull the pieces together.
For instance, we need to look at the education and training of the people who are the first line. In cases of youth suicide, we need to look at who a young person could meet, such as the school coach or school counsellor. Many are not trained to recognize the early signs and symptoms of suicide.
However, we know that if someone in a school commits suicide, it is important in terms of prevention to take action to deal with the bereavement process immediately and to talk about it. A professional is needed to talk with the young people in school to prevent those who are at high risk from committing suicide because of what happened to a class member or a friend of theirs. We know there is a high risk of that, not because these people are less capable or less able to deal with the trauma, but because we know there are some people who, for biological, sociological and other reasons, may be more at risk and feel that is the way to go.
These are the things we need to talk about. We need to talk about developing counselling in schools and developing an ability to deal with this in schools, as well as how we train family practitioners and public health nurses to recognize the early signs and symptoms.
For instance, today we had Mrs. Richardson talking about her daughter's suicide a year ago. This is a prime example.
Here was a bright, brilliant athlete, a girl who did well in school and seemed bubbly on the surface. What her mother said today in the press conference was really telling. She said, “I want us to talk about suicide every day in our homes, at the dinner table, in the malls, everywhere”. What I—