Mr. Speaker, I much appreciate the excellent speech from the member who just spoke in the House.
I am also pleased to speak to Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention. I want to offer my personal sincere thanks to the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for bringing this very important bill to the House and to parliamentarians.
I am also grateful for this opportunity to highlight the current efforts of the Government of Canada on this issue.
Suicide is a sensitive topic and one which Canadians have traditionally spoken about in hushed tones. Today I would like to bring this issue out of the shadows and into an open conversation. Suicide affects us all. We all have a responsibility to confront it so that those who are suffering never feel alone.
As parliamentarians, we see our responsibility to Canadians to rise above partisanship and find ways to bring attention to the subject. My hope is that through caring, compassion, listening and awareness, we will see fewer Canadians retreating to the shadows, afraid to discuss the illness or the stigma which confronts them. The hope is that one day positive mental health will be considered as important as physical health and that we will work collectively to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. To get there, it is important that we frame the issue appropriately in collaboration with all sectors of society.
Bill C-300 asks us to develop a federal framework in consultation with all partners and represents a solid first step in the right direction. It acknowledges that the Government of Canada has a complex mandate involving many players. It seeks ways in which these players can guide themselves to work collaboratively across departmental lines to share best practices in preventing suicide. It acknowledges that departments as diverse as the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Veterans Affairs, Canadian Forces and the RCMP can find common ground upon which better synergies can be built.
Much in keeping with the spirit of this bill, since its introduction in October, I am confident that our discussions have reflected some success in opening the dialogue on this issue. We are seeing a commitment to increase awareness and knowledge about suicide in Canada. Thousands of people have shared their thoughts and experiences with us and with their own networks. Considerable efforts have been undertaken across Canada to help meet the needs of our populations at greatest risk. However, when the goal is influencing behaviour, development and resources at every phase of life for all Canadians, it is easy to become complacent. When the goal is wholesale cultural change through reducing the debilitating stigma associated with mental illness or promoting greater self-esteem, it is easy to put the challenge on the back burner. This is why these discussions are critical.
Suicide is a shared and immediate problem. It has the potential to touch each and every one of us. Indeed, it has affected many members of this Parliament and the government. Yet we only hear about these stories when it is too late. The reality is that it is a risk at any age and crosses ethnic, social and economic boundaries.
Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in Canada. Rates are disproportionate among different populations across our nation. For example, suicide is the second cause of death among young Canadians age 15 to 24, and is the tenth leading cause of death among Canadians overall. Of almost 800 youths and young adults who committed suicide in 2007, 76% were young men. As the Chief Public Health Officer notes in his 2011 report on the state of public health in Canada on youth and young adults, not all Canadians are healthy and flourishing:
Those who are not doing well are disproportionately represented by youth from low-income families, youth who live in remote communities, sexual and gender minority youth, and Aboriginal youth.
Compounding the problem, some estimates show that as many as 90% of suicide-related deaths are attributable to a recognizable but not necessarily diagnosed mental disorder. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to help bring these matters out of the shadows, to understand the issues better, to share our knowledge and expertise and to reflect that in our policies and programs for all Canadians.
I want to highlight that the Government of Canada understands that suicide is caused by both social and environmental factors. We know it is compounded by early experiences or social influences, such as violence, bullying or social isolation. We also understand that it can be addressed through promoting greater education and awareness and using evidence-based information to guide our collaborative efforts. Activities and interventions based on promoting positive mental health, building protective factors and reducing the risk factors associated with mental health problems, and intervening early to address the stigma associated with mental illness are all important elements in helping to reduce suicide rates.
The Government of Canada's investments and initiatives to engage in mental health and suicide prevention clearly signal a commitment to addressing the issue head-on. Allow me to provide some insight into some of these activities.
The establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada is helping to build the partnerships needed to raise awareness and develop a mental health strategy for the country to be released this year. In fact, the commission's opening minds initiative remains the largest systemic effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness in Canadian history. Research, planning, risk detection, knowledge exchange, surveillance and partnership building are all improving under the watch of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Several federal departments are providing suicide awareness and prevention workshops and training for staff. For example, front-line staff at Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Forces receive applied suicide intervention skills training and better information. The Canadian Forces has a robust mental health outreach program for the career cycle of all employees. Prevention and promotion workshops are extending to federal inmates, as well as Correctional Service staff.
However, as I have noted, change will not happen overnight.
Investing in and promoting positive mental health over the course of one's entire life has the potential to reduce risk factors contributing to suicide and mental illness. The Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada play a key role here. These departments place a significant focus on community-based initiatives and efforts to assist the most vulnerable in all stages of life.
For early wellness intervention, the community action program for children, the aboriginal headstart program, the Canadian prenatal nutrition program reach over 100,000 children and families in thousands of communities every year. The nobody's perfect parenting program targets vulnerable parents of young children, aiming to increase their understanding of their child's health, safety, and behaviour. The Public Health Agency's recent investments in mental health promotion initiatives are reaching high-risk populations in over 50 communities across Canada. Mental health promotion for aboriginal youth works with over 15 aboriginal communities in three provinces providing culturally based, family centred programs to address aggressive behaviours and other community conditions that can lead to suicide.
We are making headway on promoting mental health through solid action at the community level and within federal, provincial and territorial governments in co-operation with many stakeholders.
The declaration on prevention and promotion, endorsed by all ministers of health in 2010, affirms positive mental health as a foundation for optimal overall health and well-being throughout a person's lifetime. Provinces and territories are developing approaches to these issues that make a difference in the lives of Canadians every day, and a desire for greater collaboration on suicide prevention has been articulated at all levels of government.
After all, it is not an easy time for many Canadians. We are not completely sheltered from the global economic crisis. The world is faster and more connected and changes to our everyday lives from rapid developments in science and technology have outpaced previous generations. These all contribute. Things such as, in schools, preventing bullying, providing counselling and support, facilitating information, supporting advocacy and contributing to the development of a mental health strategy in Canada are very important.
Suicide prevention is an extremely complex issue that no one organization can tackle alone. Our partners in this country understand the importance of breaking down barriers to work together.
Bill C-300 was developed to encourage collaborative and aligned action in the following areas: providing guidelines; disseminating information; making stats publicly available; promoting collaboration; and knowledge exchange across the boundaries. The Government of Canada recognizes the need to better understand the factors that contribute to suicide.
While the work ahead of us is long term, a marathon rather than a sprint, this bill, combined with a renewed momentum, gives us the solid footing for a long journey ahead. I want to congratulate the member again for bringing forward this very important bill that can save a lot of lives in our country.