author: taylor balfour | news writer
What is Saskatchewan doing to fix their high suicide rate?
It was no secret to Saskatchewan communities that late 2016 was a heart-wrenching time. A number of young girls committed suicide in the northern half of the province, leaving families, friends and schools feeling devastated. Six girls, ranging from ages 10-14, all took their lives in the span of a month. While devastating, the aftermath of such a tragedy has opened the eyes to a greater issue facing the entire province.
In recent years, the Saskatchewan Alliance for Youth and Community Well-Being [SAYCW] commenced a survey across the province, providing youth from grades 7-12 to participate in a talk about mental and physical health, communities and emotional support, and health habits.
While the results show stats on a variety of topics such as self-harm, suicide, and self-esteem, it also highlighted very present problems with suicide in students in the province. It reports that “nearly 1 in 5 (19 per cent) students had considered suicide in the past year” and that 50 per cent of those who had considered it, later attempted.
It also reports that 12 per cent of male students and 32 per cent of females have ever self-harmed themselves, and that “11 per cent of students had attempted suicide once or more than once in the past year.” It was more common in female students to attempt suicide once or more than once, with 8 per cent and 6 per cent respectively, than males at 5 per cent once and 3 per cent attempting more than once. Their survey reached 8,832 students in 114 schools across the province.
While the province’s report as a whole has been released, according to Global News, SAYCW has also “provided every school that participated in the survey with its own individual report” to help allow them to focus on a specific area if need be.
With the stats now released, the numbers don’t shock those who are aware that Saskatchewan has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. However, that doesn’t mean the statistics aren’t heartbreaking to read.
“Mental illness and depression and different forms of anxiety that lead to suicidal thoughts, they’re very isolating,” Kent Klippenstine, manager of the University of Regina’s counseling services, claims.
“When someone is isolating themselves, they have a very difficult time stopping those thoughts, seeing any kind of hope for the future, and seeing also that there is help.”
He further goes onto explain how if someone at the University is struggling, how they would be able to gain help from counseling services.
“We changed to an online booking system, so if you can log onto URCourses, we can book an appointment,” He explains.
“Our website, counseling services which is through the U of R, there’s a link on the front page that says ‘book an appointment’. If you click it, it’ll take them to a separate screen and at that screen they will be able to enter their same username and password and from there, there will be an intake session form that asks a few basic questions.”
However, gaining help isn’t as easy as others may perceive, since many students have added stresses onto their desire to get help.
“Unfortunately a lot of times it could take 1-3 weeks for someone to become stable. They may still have suicidal thoughts and things like that, but they’re at a reduced risk and unfortunately a semester can be lost, which to a student, is devastating,” Klippenstine explains.
“Different students can have different scenarios. A local student, a Canadian student, if they lose a semester for whatever reason, you can reapply. An international student, some of them they have to finish in four years, right? It’s well out of their hands. It’s an added stress, an added pressure.”
While these stats highlight a major issue in our province and in mental health in our schools, it’s important to remember the real-life victims and families affected by such tragedies. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan told CBC News in late October, “They’re not just statistics, our little girls are dying. It isn’t about this being No. 6.”
The suicides in Saskatchewan are far more than numbers to report, they are also people and families forever affected by tragedy.
As Saskatchewan’s suicide rate is so high, this also provides issues for Saskatchewan’s mental health care.
“It’s actually not as easy as one might believe to get one admitted to the hospital,” Klippenstine says.
“The more risk, the more resources that are needed. If a student lives on residence, we can have RA’s doing check-ins, and we inform the student that this is going to happen we don’t just surprise anything. We make sure that that person is with someone and that that person is going to be checked in on,” he assures, explaining the counseling service’s process.
“It becomes a very halt everything, academics, all that stuff, and just really focus on putting resources into the student to assure safety.”
So, if someone goes to counseling services for the first time, what can they expect?
“They’ll have an intake appointment, which is a half hour to assess risk first off, because it’s important when someone selects services that they are seen within a reasonable time frame,” Klippenstine begins.
“We have up to 12 intakes a day and maybe 4 or 5 times a semester they’re full for the day, so generally a student can get an appointment the day that they need it. Then if someone’s in real distress they can go up front and someone will see them that day. We don’t say ‘wait until tomorrow’ or ‘go back online’.”
But most importantly, the support gives hope.
“There’s a lot of stories of strength and there’s a lot of people who have recovered, there’s a lot more strength. It’s not a death sentence. It is not ‘this is your life for 30 years’ and that’s where I think this conversation can also help,” he concludes, stressing the importance of talking about suicide and its impact.
“The conversation is important because the support is important.”