‘It is now a political question’


The Liberals used their opposition day to move a motion calling on the government to formulate and fund a national strategy on suicide prevention and they used all nine of their opportunities in Question Period to press the government on various facets of the problem. In an op-ed this morning, interim leader Bob Rae laid out the reasons for concern.

Today, 10 Canadians will take their own lives, a per capita rate three times that of the United States’, largely due to the staggering number of suicides among aboriginal Canadians. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death in men ages 25 to 29 and 40 to 44, women ages 30 to 34, and the second cause of death among adolescents.

It is no surprise, then, that all of us have been touched by suicide, have lost friends and loved ones, and have tried to figure out why lives that seemed together and well-focused are suddenly ended. But the bewilderment of silence and pain that surrounds mental health has to end. It is no longer just a personal question; it is now a political question.


‘It is now a political question’

  1. Colby Cosh made a good point about this:

    “The Liberals are spending the day arguing that suicide prevention is a national issue? Are there economies of scale to be exploited here? 

    Maybe they can just give us a list of issues that don’t benefit from handling by means of a “national strategy”?”

    I think we can all agree that suicide prevention is very important, but I fail to understand the logic behind making it a “national political question”.  

    • If the per-capita rate is 3 times that of our nearest neighbor, I think there’s probably reason why the government should be asking ‘why’ – particularly when the rate is especially high among a group for which the Federal Government delivers health services.

        • I wonder where Rae is getting his comparison then? 

          After all, he says right in his article, in the part that Aaron quotes no less “Today, 10 Canadians will take their own lives, a per capita rate three times that of the United States’, largely due to the staggering number of suicides among aboriginal Canadians.” (emphasis added)

          I appreciate that you have a link to the Wikipedia page with numbers, and Rae’s article doesn’t contain a citation (not that I necessarily expect a news article to) but I’m willing to presume that Bob Rae didn’t just pull that bit out of his hat, so I’m sure there’s SOMETHING to it. 

          I’d also add that even if we don’t need a national strategy to battle suicide, nonetheless, imho, anything that even tangentially gets us mentioning the APPALLING plight of aboriginal Canadians is great.

          • I can only conclude that Bob Rae is wrong. 

            Suicide is a serious issue, and aboriginal suicide is an urgent and compelling issue, and I’m glad that Bob Rae is doing his bit to raise awareness, but he’s still wrong.

            There’s no way in hell that Canada’s per capita suicide rate is three times that of the United States.  That’s ridiculous. 

          • What’s even more interesting is that his article appeared in the Globe and Mail. One would assume that both Rae and the Globe have access to the data that would easily refute such a figure.

            Unfortunately, Rae only hurts the cause that he’s championing. To embarrassingly climb down so far from his original figure, he risks making the problem seem less severe than it is.

          • Yeah, now that I read your last para and really think about it, that’s true.  My best guess is that he mis-wrote that sentence, and that perhaps it’s the ABORIGINAL suicide rate that’s three times the national rate.  I wonder if we’ll ever find out for sure.

          • It is the aboriginal rate that is three times as high as the national rate…..(a perusal of WHO and Public Health Canada web material).

            One of those sources indicated that the Inuit rate is 60 to 75 per 100,000 per year….

            I’ll give Bob Rae the benefit of the doubt here, and say that some clumsy editing somewhere between gathering the data and Bob Rae’s statement being reprinted (above) has created a statement that is demonstrably incorrect.

            Regardless, death by suicide strikes me as particularly tragic – hopefully we can get past an editing error and agree on that.

          • Well, it is good to be a Liberal under the new Liberal rebuilding way of doing things.  Because lowly me just asked, and got an answer.


            I find it particularly interesting (and less than amusing) that our suicide rates are only so comparatively high because their murder rates are killing off those who might otherwise kill themselves.

          • @2Jenn:disqus 


            Thanks, Jenn!  So Bob Rae was talking about the YOUTH per capita rate.

            For the convenience of other readers, here’s the relevant paragraph:

            Shockingly, Canada’s youth-suicide rate per capita is nearly triple that in the United States, although our youth homicide rates are much lower – facts partly explained by the high suicide rates in Canadian native communities, particularly in the North, and, respectively, the high rates of handgun violence in American inner cities.

          • CR / Jenn:

            Ha, look at that….thanks for the clarifications about Bob Rae’s intent.

            So, does this problem need a new program, or is it the case that existing programs are adequate?

        • I was just taking Rae at his word.

          for what it’s worth the Canadian Mental Health Association – citing WHO – claims Canada’s rate is 15 / 100,000. Still not three times the US rate, unless they’re rate has gone down by more than half in the same time.

          It’s also significantly less than 10/day – which, if my rough math can be trusted – would probably put the rate at about 80/100,000.

          • Also, their rate – not they’re.

            I guess if even Mr. Rae can make a mistake, I should fess up to my own.

  2. Actually it’s a medical question, but apparently medicine needs it’s butt kicked by politics to do anything about it.

    • “medicine needs its butt kicked by politics to do anything about it” – Oh my, if it were ony that easy to solve the problem of suicide.
      First off, part of the reason that Canada’s rates for suicide among youth are higher than the US might have something to do with geography – lack of sunlight causes increased numbers of depression;  Since the article stated that most of the victims of suicide are depressed (91%) – let’s just establish right now that depression is not always easy to treat, especially in teenagers.  As the article in the Globe and Mail pointed out, they are not especially forthcoming about how they are feeling.  Further, they do not always respond we to treatment  – antidepressants have to be used with caution as they can trigger suicide.  Teens tend to be impulsive as they article also pointed out – they don’t give a lot of thought to the idea of suicide before acting on it.  Another problem with this age group is substance abuse – they are teenagers and they drink alcohol – it disinhibits them and it is a cns depressant….therefore they become more depressed and more likely to act impulsively when imbibing.
      For adults that do not respond to antidepressants, we can use electroconvulsive shock therapy with very good effect (90% + success) but it is not used on youth.
      It is definitely true that we have very high suicide rates among the First Nations youth.   I am not sure that the numbers would be different than on US reservations however.

      • Mental illness is a health problem, the same as physical illness is…..and it needs to be addressed by the medical establishment.

        However, they don’t appear to be doing much about it …beyond talking about stupid things like sunlight and alcohol…so maybe the politicians need to kick their butts.

        Because when it comes to mental illness….we really aren’t much past Bethlem [Bedlam] hospital of the past.

        • Well Emily, I just tried to point out to you the difficulties with treating depression in youth (which is the cause for the most of suicide).  Now why don’t you tell me, what in your learned opinion the ‘medical establishment’ should be doing that it isn’t.  Keep in mind that there is a funding shortage so we don’t have enough inpatient beds or outpatient counselling spots as we’d like and that IS a political (provincial) issue.  I look forward to hearing your expert input on the subject.
          Oh and by the way, Steve Jobs just died of a rare pancreatic cancer. I guess the medical establishment needs a “kick in the butt” for that too. Seems us medical people just cannot cure everything yet…..boy it sucks not to be GOD.

          • Depression in youth is normal…same for everyone else.

            Mental illness is not normal, for anyone.

            Has the medical establishment tried to find cures for mental illness?


            It’s the money, it’s the beds, the wind came up, the boat rocked…..

            And focus please.

          • Major Depression is a mental illness and is NOT NORMAL for anyone.  Yes, medical researchers search for cures for all mental illnesses including major depression….just like they search for a cure for cancer, heart disease and every kind of illness.  That does not mean they do not provide the most up to date treatments for those suffering from the illness at the same time.
            Some people are cured of mental illness after only one event.  They may only have one major depression or one psychosis and they may never have another.  For others it is a life-long problem and until a cure is found, they will have to remain on treatment.
            If you read the Globe and Mail article, you would know that almost none of the teens that commited suicide even sought out medical help because NO ONE including their parents or friends recognized that they were depressed or suicidal.


          • I’m not sure what your point is but given that there were at least 5 teens whose parents AND FRIENDS didn’t expect them to commit suicide….MY POINT is that it is not always very obvious and “the medical establishment” can hardly take the blame when no one comes to them seeking care.
            As for your ascertain that the medical establishment hasn’t looked for cures for mental illness, you should check out CAMH’s “First Episode Psychosis Clinic” and the PRIME program which is a “prevention program” for youth as young as 14 who have symptoms that MIGHT suggest they are prone to psychosis and even schizophrenia.  The PRIME program does interventions aimed at stopping the psychosis from occuring and the Early Psychosis Program intervenes as quickly as possible after the first psychosis so a person’s life is disrupted the least amount possible by the psychotic event.  This is hardly “Bedlam”.

          • The point is, people don’t commit suicide over sunshine and other daft things.

            Serious and devastating events create mental problems…..and people often self-medicate because the medical establishment can’t be bothered to help. Or even look beyond silly causes.

            Mental illness also often gets put in institutions…with strait jackets, cold baths and cattle prods

            Don’t tell me it isn’t Bedlam.

          • …sunshine.????  It is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, Emily and it is a type of major depression.  There are no straight jackets and no cattle prods.  Depression is a physical illness usually caused by a chemical imbalance – it can be set off by a catastrophic event but it is not necessarily the case.  For goodness sakes, do some research and quit spreading around a bunch of ridiculous myths about psychiatric units.

          • Even though you defend the medical establishment as though you were head of the CMA….you know very little about mental illness, and how it’s treated.

            You probably read about it somewhere.

            You are the biggest in-the-box thinker I ever met.

          • I know very little about mental illness and how it is treated….that is really funny given that I am a psychiatric nurse with 14 years experience working in adullt & adolescent psychiatry in a major city hospital.  I have worked both as an inpatient registered nurse and an outpatient case manager.  Where did you get your knowledge and expertise in mental illness and how it is treated?

          • Yes, you’re a nurse. Genuine treatment for mental illness is another matter.

          • Yes…..I am a psychiatric nurse who has worked in psychiatry for a decade and a half but I have no idea how psychiatric illnesses are treated….hmmm and you Emily are not a  65+ year old woman – you are actually Tom Cruise, posing as an older woman from southern Ontario, so you can spread your paranoid rantings about “modern psychiatry” according to the Church of Scientology.  There is no other explanation for your strange suggestions of how archaic psychiatric units could exist in modern hospitals and no one has intervened to challenge the way patients are being tortured.  Do you not have a patient advocate in Ontario?  Are commited mental health patients not allowed visitors or access to a lawyer?  Surely someone would notice that the psychiatrists are carrying around cattle prods and the patients are wearing straight jackets.

          • And on another thread you’re a nutritionist.

            In fact you’re every kind of nurse on here…if the topic is medical at all….you do it.

          • No, I am not a nutritionalist.  I just have an opinion about eating food that has “nutional value” vs junk food.  Yes, I am a registered nurse.  I have worked in cardiovascular surgery and in public health but I have spent the majority of my working life in adult & adolescent psychiatry.
            Believe it or not, the 4 year  Bachelor of Nursing program requires that you study ALL facets of medicine and that you work in many areas before you graduate.  They want you to be prepared to enter a job in any part of the system where registered nurses work. 
            In Alberta, we are governed by a college that demands as part of our yearly registration that we continually update our knowledge either by taking classes or studying medical journals.  Yes, I read alot of journals in all areas of medicine.  I have no problem if you disagree and can point out the research to me.  I am always happy to learn something new. 

          • Then you should know the difference between moods and mental illness….and you should cease giving advice in fields you’re not qualified in….like nutrition. Or MS. Or all the other fields you discuss on behalf of the medical establishment.

            Then you can look up the percentage of mentally ill people we have in our prison system…untreated and abused.

            Or the people who are autistic, have Downs syndrome, schizophrenia and the like who are abused in institutions.

            You live in a very neat ordered world….a shoebox of righteousness, and are seemingly unaware there is a world outside your ward.

          • Major Depression is a mood disorder – look it up in the DSM IV.
            As for giving advice when your not qualified – hello…..Emily…you are always telling people what to think and do.  I am entitled to give my “thoughtful” opinions just like everyone else.  Thanks very much.  If you only stuck to your one, little area of expertise you would not be on here harranging me right now.
            As for prisons – there you go….I have NO IDEA about the state of mental health care in prisons but you seem to even though you what….work on the internet in economic development.
            Far be it for me to give MY OPINION about anything medical because I am just a lowly nurse who read about it in a medical journal….better that you give YOUR OPINION because you have NO medical background and NO expertise but you are so in awe of your own importance, no REAL KNOWLEDGE is required.

          • Missing sunshine is a mood disorder…genuine chronic depression is not.

            An opinion is one thing….medical advice is not

            Everyone is entitled to their own opinion….they are not entitled to their own facts.

            Since you have no idea what my area of expertise is, and since YOU attacked ME…I’d say you’re now no doubt sorry for doing so. So stop it. It’s become a habit with you.

          • What I am sorry about Emily is my attempt to engage you in any type of exchange whatever.  You can be assured that it won’t happen again.  Just so you know, registered nurses are qualified to give out medical advice.  That is why they hire us to work on the provincial phone-in advice lines.

          • Mmm no, sorry.

            Not on MS and nutrition and moods and mental illness and colds and how to fix your love life etc

            Nor are you supposed to be attacking posters because they think the medical establishment in this country needs a kick in the ass about mental illness.

            It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed…not advice to the lovelorn.

  3. The problem is that solutions to suicide would negatively impact the government’s bottom line. For example, closing down casinos, or imposing more restrictions on alcohol sales.

    Here in Montreal, there was an uproar when the government proposed relocating the casino to a more “accessible” spot on the island. The government suggested it could raise much more revenue with the move, but at the end of the day, the proposal was cancelled due to concerns over an increase in gambling addicts, and all that it would entail (suicide, etc).

    • Although gambling addiction is real, I can’t say in 14 years of working in acute psychiatry that I have seen more than 2 patients on the unit for treatment for that particular addiction.  Also, although people who are addicted to substances/behaviors are not usually the ones who have left hospital and commited suicide in my experience.  Rather, it is those suffering from major depression.  Alcohol is definitely a depressant and it tends to make people act in ways that they might not otherwise act – it makes them braver….so they might jump off a bridge when they would not have if they were sober.  Depressed people tend to use alcohol to self-medicate.  They are in alot of pain and can see not way out and the alcohol numbs them for awhile.
      We need to be aware that depression is a physical illness, just like diabetes or heart disease.  There are chemical imbalances that cause it and treating it is the only way to meaningfully reduce the number of suicides in our country.

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