Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver East for sharing her time with me. I would also like to say that the NDP will be supporting the Liberal motion regarding a national suicide prevention strategy, since this is a very urgent problem that needs to be addressed.
A national prevention strategy is essential, because it will save lives. To achieve that, however, we need to work together and provide the assistance that people who are suffering need. To ensure that all communities in Canada receive the care and attention they need, we must take a coordinated approach. Over the past 20 years, our society has become more aware of the complex issue of suicide. We now know that at-risk people usually feel isolated and are often suffering terribly. We also know more about the medical, social and economic causes of suicide.
In the 1980s and 1990s, some programs started up in various provinces and they have produced tangible results. Since 1998, Quebec has had a provincial suicide prevention strategy with specific funding. The help centres work together and form a provincial network. There is also a provincial emergency help line and a hotline devoted exclusively to young people, called Kids Help Phone. We now have suicide prevention training for health professionals and the provincial government is funding research in this field. Youth centres, the CLSCs, NGOs and other partners are now working together to offer people at risk the necessary help and aftercare.
Before adopting this strategy, the suicide rate in Quebec was one of the highest in the industrialized world. The suicide rate dropped from 18% in 1981 to 14% in 2009. That is a clear improvement, but much more progress remains to be achieved. The data show that an effective strategy, involving all the players, can be fruitful.
Unfortunately, a number of our country's isolated communities still do not have access to these programs. That is why it is important to focus on local and provincial initiatives and come up with a national strategy to ensure that no one is forgotten. Although suicide is an individual action, it has to be viewed as a public health issue. Quality of life, one's social network and the help available can have a positive impact on a person in distress, if those resources are accessible, of course.
Without help, people in distress are isolated and left alone with their suicidal thoughts. There is a great risk that the person will go through with it. Family violence and drug and alcohol use can aggravate the state of the person in distress. Things such as trouble finding a place to live, a broken heart, failure, rejection, financial problems or any other stressful event that causes anxiety or sadness can trigger suicidal ideas. That is when the straw breaks the camel's back.
The incidence of suicide is higher in some groups. People with mental health problems, the homeless, seniors or youth, for example, are at higher risk. In the case of the homeless, their distress is aggravated by their miserable living conditions. These people often cannot access health services because of their precarious social situation and the fact that they do not have an address. Homelessness remains a phenomenon that is not well understood and the homeless are often treated with disdain. For that reason any initiative to help these people must be applauded.
I would like to point out that, on October 21, outdoor vigils will be held in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which is in my riding, and throughout Quebec. The Nuit des sans-abri is organized by the organization P.A.C.T. de rue. These events can help us understand what the homeless experience, their distress, and also their needs and rights, which are often overlooked.
Other groups are also considered to be more susceptible to suicidal thoughts, including aboriginal youth. This has been mentioned several times today. The community of Akwesasne, located in my riding, knows all too well what I am speaking about. In the past 18 months, four young people have taken their own lives. For a community of 15,000 people, this loss of human life is a tragedy. The youth of this Mohawk community often struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Some of them steal prescription drugs, or are recruited by criminal gangs to run drugs to be sold on the black market.
Mental health services are available in the Akwesasne community, but not all young people will accept help. The reserve's leaders point out the importance of providing services that are tailored to the reality of these young people and would like to set up a help line for aboriginal youth, because there is none at present.
In addition, the adolescent treatment centre in Akwesasne, which provides care for young people with addictions, is still waiting for federal government funding so that staff can continue their work with youth. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that these young people receive help that respects their cultural and spiritual identity. In general, these young people are at a higher risk of suicidal ideation. Suicide is the leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24. Adolescence is a critical time involving significant changes. It is a time when young people are building their personal identity and self-esteem. They are experiencing peer pressure and feel pressured to succeed in school. They are also sometimes the victims of schoolyard bullying or domestic violence.
Mental health problems often become apparent during adolescence. The role of psychologists, psychoeducators, social workers, street workers, teachers and others is key in identifying the warning signs. These teachers and health professionals must be trained and given the financial support they need to know how to act and react when faced with the distress of these young people.
It is also important to reduce the stigmatization of young people with suicidal thoughts and behaviour. There are still too many taboos, and people do not dare to speak out about their unhappiness. Consulting mental health professionals and identifying themselves as someone who needs help is not an obvious course of action for them because there is still a lot of prejudice in this regard. Nevertheless, we must encourage these young people to talk to the appropriate people. This will show that they are trying to improve their situation and that they want to regain balance in their lives. That is what we must encourage. Help must therefore be available when people need it.
The bill introduced by my colleague from Halifax addresses a number of aspects of suicide, including prevention. The bill would provide for better training of professionals in the field, better media coverage, and support for research to prevent suicide and better identify risk groups. The bill focuses on collaboration with community organizations and stakeholders in the first nations who already have expertise in the area. It encourages the communities, provinces and cities to work together to prevent suicide. The bill also recognizes the importance of changing attitudes, breaking taboos and being able to speak openly about suicide.
Furthermore, for all of these reasons, countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and the United States have all established national strategies. Canada is one of the few industrialized countries that does not yet have such a strategy. But the clock is ticking. Every day, as we have heard many times, 10 people commit suicide in this country. Every year, 3,500 people choose to end their lives. We must take action. A national strategy would allow us to prioritize listening, helping and offering compassion, and to help those who are suffering across the country.
This is a critical issue, and the elected members of this House must stand united and adopt the motion moved by the Liberals.
We have a responsibility to address this problem. We also have the means to help people in distress. Now it is up to the government to show its political will to take positive and concrete action and get involved in developing and implementing this national suicide prevention strategy that is so crucial and so urgent. We can choose to build a more positive and just society. Let us do it.