Madam Speaker, I rise today in order to remember family and friends lost to suicide, to provide support to those who have experienced loss, and to remind those suffering that there is hope and there is caring and compassion in community.
I also rise to call on the government to develop a national suicide prevention strategy. Our children, parents and family members, our friends and colleagues, our clients and patients, our neighbours and people from all socio-economic, age, culture and gender groups cannot wait any longer.
Worldwide, almost one million people die from suicide annually. The global mortality rate is 16 per 100,000, meaning that there is one suicide death roughly every 40 seconds and that 3,000 people commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% globally.
No part of Canadian society is immune. Suicide affects all of us and remains among Canada's most serious public health issues, with a mortality rate of 15 per 100,000. In the past three decades, more than 100,000 Canadians have died by suicide. Every year in Canada, almost 4,000 people die by suicide.
Rates are even higher among specific groups. For example, the suicide rate for Inuit peoples living in northern Canada is between 60 and 75 per 100,000 people. Suicide rates for Inuit youth are staggeringly high, as much as 28 times the national average in the case of males aged 15 to 24. Other populations at an increased risk of suicide include youth, the elderly, inmates in correctional facilities, people with mental illness, and those who have previously attempted suicide.
Tragically, when someone dies by suicide, the pain does not end. It is merely transferred to family, friends and community. Those grieving require compassion, support and understanding to help minimize suicide's impact.
For far too long discussion of suicide involved secrecy, stigma and taboo. The secrecy must stop. We must confront the silence, stand up to stigma, and actively work to prevent suicide.
Suicide is a complex problem involving biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. Specific risk factors include mental disorders such as alcohol dependence, depression, personality disorders and schizophrenia, and physical illnesses such as cancer, HIV infection and neurological disorders.
We know that those at risk for suicide experience overwhelming emotional pain. They want and need help in reducing the pain so that they can go on to lead fulfilling lives. We must ensure that they get the help they need.
Let me raise the plight of many of our veterans, who are struggling when they come home, living with post-traumatic stress disorder and in some cases fighting for their lives.
Before I do, let me thank all our veterans, our World War II veterans and our Korean veterans, our Canadian Forces veterans and all our Canadian Forces in reserves. I thank them; I know each member of this House thanks them, and our country thanks them. There is no commemoration, praise or tribute that can truly match the enormity of their service and their sacrifice.
Veterans Affairs reports that the number of veterans experiencing some kind of operational stress injury, such as PTSD, has tripled in the past five years. According to data obtained through access to information requests, the suicide rate among Canada's soldiers may have doubled from 2006 to 2007, rising to a rate triple that of the general population.
I have had the enormous privilege of working with veterans across our country and I have heard their stories. Examples are a veteran living for 10 years in the bush; my receiving a suicide note from a veteran on a Sunday afternoon; having to find help and having to find the veteran lost in a snowstorm, because no psychiatrist appointment was coming for three months, despite a diagnosis of PTSD for years and years; not hearing from a veteran for weeks and waiting for him to re-emerge from the darkness of his basement; receiving a note from a veteran distraught because a young friend was found dead on the roadside and another dead in the basement. Both had simply stopped living. They had given up eating and taking their medication.
Here are just a few comments from our country's extraordinary heroes and their desperation: “We are all suffering and we need help. It is not only the guys we lose overseas; it is the guys we lose here to suicide. They may as well have died overseas. We have all contemplated it. The thoughts are relentless. When I contemplate suicide, it is relief. It means stopping the pain, no more fights with that. The question we ask ourselves is how can we leave and leave our family in a better position. Everyone else is better without us”.
From a physician who veterans call a guardian angel: “What we really need in place for these vets, we need to be able to refer them somewhere nearby where they can have continuous care. They are hurting and their families are hurting. Many wives have contacted me and really do not want to stay with them. They are afraid of them and for them”.
It is time we give unprecedented support to our wounded warriors especially those with PTSD and traumatic brain injury which has led too many of our veterans to taking their own lives. We must continue to make major investments, ending the stigmatization of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, improving outreach and suicide prevention, hiring and training more mental health councillors and treating more veterans than ever before. Every veteran needs to be assured that his or her nation will be there to help them stay strong. It is the morally right thing to do.
There are effective strategies and interventions for the prevention of suicide. For example, adequate prevention and treatment of alcohol, depression and substance abuse; restriction of access to common methods of suicide such as firearms or toxic substances like pesticides; and follow-up contact with those who have attempted suicide. However, there is a tremendous need to adopt multi-sectoral approaches including both health and non-health sectors; for example, education, justice, labour, police, politics and the media.
Many countries have developed national strategies to reduce suicide often with the expertise and leadership of Canadian experts. We must all ask why Canada has been so slow in moving forward on this pressing public health issue, so such delay never happens again.
Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy, an ongoing co-ordinated set of activities which will aim to reduce suicide by a specific amount by a given period. The strategy should be evidence-based, specific and subject to evaluation. Specific goals might include: the reduction of risk in key high risk groups, the promotion of mental well-being in the wider population, the reduction of the availability and lethality of suicide methods, the improvement of reporting of suicidal behaviour in the media, the promotion of research on suicide and suicide prevention, and the improvement of monitoring.
In closing, each suicide is an individual tragedy and the irrevocable loss to society. Suicide is devastating for families and other survivors; economically, psychologically and spiritually. For these reasons the government must make suicide prevention a health priority. No veteran should ever have to utter these words again: “I am a second generation serviceman. My son will never put on a uniform. I'm losing sleep. MPs should be losing sleep. PTSD has destroyed everything in my life. Dying hangs over me every day of my life”.
We as Canadians must end the silence, ease the suffering, and prevent others from experiencing such devastating loss.