Alarming signs of distress

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An alarming increase in suicide attempts in St. Albert may be the latest indicator that the economic downturn in Alberta is pushing some people to the brink.

In the first three months of the year there was on average a report of one suicide attempt per day to St. Albert helping agencies. Some say this estimate is conservative. While comparative statistics for other years is not available, those who work with those in crisis say this is a disturbing increase.

The economic downturn has created significant stress for residents and the agencies that serve them. This week St. Albert City Council unanimously approved $147,000 in one-time provincial FCSS money for a crisis fund. The bulk of the money will be used to meet emerging needs like crisis counselling, clothing and emergency housing. A total of $15,000 is dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health support training to identify and counsel people at risk.

In a report to council Scott Rodda, director of Community and Social Development (formerly known as FCSS), said there is little doubt the economic downturn has turned up the heat on people. Higher unemployment rates, increase in requests for food hampers, rise in domestic violence cases, increase in homelessness and more mental health referrals are just some of the indicators cited in his report to city council.

The report also notes strong co-relations between unemployment and mental health; financial stress and relationship stress; and poor mental health and suicide.

The Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention says there is often a spike in suicide attempts in poor economic times.

In a column published late last year, Mara Gruneau, executive director for the Centre for Suicide Prevention, said a co-ordinated, multi-pronged approach is needed to reduce suicide risk. She advocates open and easy access to care; responsible media reporting including candid conversations about suicide and where to get help; restricting access to lethal means; clinician training, and educating people to identify those who are suicidal and help them get help.

Gruneau urges people who are worried about the mental health of someone to be bold and to ask them directly if they are considering suicide. If they are, connect them to help. She said these people do not want to die, they are in such extreme pain they can see no other way out.

At the end of February the province released its Mental Health Review with recommendations for improvement. At that time co-chair David Swan said: “The current mental health system is not meeting the needs of an increasing number of Albertans. We can and must do better.”

The review made a series of recommendations to improve mental health for Albertans including identifying and addressing problems early, supporting people, and a more co-ordinated and integrated approach to service delivery.

The City of St. Albert has taken an important first step to relieve the pressure. But the problem needs a more concerted effort that includes the provincial government and individual actions. This is urgent business. Delays could very well mean lives.

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St. Albert Gazette

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