Nova Scotia premier seeks to ‘support’ First Nation after string of suicides – Halifax

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Premier Stephen McNeil says Nova Scotia is looking to find ways to support the province’s largest Mi’kmaq community after a string of suicides.

McNeil, who is also the province’s Aboriginal Affairs minister, said the province already funds a crisis call centre at Eskasoni First Nation and may “enhance” that funding.

“It’s been a real tragedy in Eskasoni in the last month and we’ve seen a number of people who felt in despair, where they did the unthinkable really in lots of ways,” McNeil told reporters after a cabinet meeting Thursday.


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Aboriginal group calls for more mental health funding in wake of Eskasoni First Nation suicides

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said last week multiple suicides have underscored the need for more health-care resources in the Cape Breton community.

Denny called on all levels of government to step up, noting that more long-term funding is needed for culturally informed mental health, trauma and addictions services.

“We’re looking at how do we support him,” McNeil, who spoke with Denny last week, said Thursday. “We’re looking at it from a provincial point of view and the crisis call centre, and other initiatives that we can do to help support him.”

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs has called on Ottawa to put more money into the crisis line and mental health supports for the roughly 4,500 people who are part of the Eskasoni First Nation.

Chief Bob Gloade of the congress called the situation “extremely urgent.”

WATCH: Cape Breton’s Eskasoni First Nation experiencing mental health crisis






The congress is asking for $600,000 in annual funding for the distress line, $150,000 for a clinical therapist, $75,000 for resources to support focus groups for people 20 to 40 years old and $90,000 for suicide prevention training.

McNeil said he has spoken with the local MP, Mark Eyking, about what they can do together and with Eskasoni.

“I would agree with the chiefs the federal government should play a role,” McNeil said.

“The crisis line in Eskasoni is one that has been used broadly for Mi’kmaq across the province, not just in Eskasoni. So we’re working with … the chief, he has some proposals into Aboriginal Affairs provincially but we would certainly welcome any help at the national level.”


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First Nations community in Cape Breton grieving after multiple deaths

Eskasoni health director Sharon Rudderham said last week the community has experienced multiple deaths, both expected and unexpected, intensifying its grief.

“The compounding effects and the re-traumatization that are impacting our community we believe require a more effective response to dealing with the situation,” she told a press conference at the Eskasoni Health Centre last week.

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Three years later, Ontario police watchdog hasn’t begun review of officer suicides

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Three years after the suicide of a Toronto police officer prompted the province’s police watchdog to promise a systemic review of officer mental health, the review still hasn’t begun.

The problem, according to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), is a lack of resources and the fact that two other systemic reviews are already underway.

Back in 2016, director Gerry McNeilly said that a growing number of complaints he was hearing about police mental health issues signalled a pressing need to tackle the problem, province-wide. So one week after the suicide of a Toronto officer, McNeilly said he would employ a special tool of his office to launch a systemic review of officer mental health and suicides, examining police services across Ontario and making recommendations for change.

“I think we’re setting up officers to fail,” McNeilly said in an interview in February 2016, saying he hoped his office would officially announce and launch the systemic review mid-year.

In the years since, police officer suicides have continued, with a spike in 2018 prompting Ontario’s chief coroner Dirk Huyer to launch a review of nine deaths.

Critics say that while they welcome that review, it has long been apparent that a detailed, provincial examination — such as the one committed to by the OIPRD — was warranted.

“It’s a little too late for us, and it’s a little sad that it took this number of deaths for them to spring into action,” said Heidi Rogers, whose husband, Toronto police Sgt. Richard Rogers, died by suicide in 2014.

When she complained to the OIPRD about the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death, which she says included severe anxiety and bullying, she says she was assured the forthcoming systemic review into officer mental health would tackle the issues.

The delay, Rogers said, has sent a message that “you don’t warrant our attention.”

Spokesperson Rosemary Parker stressed that the OIPRD director “continues to be very concerned about suicides, mental health and operational stress among police officers.” But the review has not been launched due to “resourcing issues” and two other ongoing reviews.

“It has always been the intention of the Director to address a range of issues regarding officer mental health and operational stress in a systemic review, should he be in a position to launch one,” she said.

She noted that McNeilly has, in the mean time, spoken with current and former police officers affected by mental health challenges, and families of officers who have died by suicide, and the majority support a systemic review.

Parker added that such a review would “help in addressing issues police services face with the number of staff off due to operational stress.”

The Star asked Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General if it would consider providing additional resources to the OIPRD in order to help facilitate a review of police officer mental health in the wake of the suicides.

“The Office of the Independent Police Review Director is an independent agency and conducts reviews independent of government,” a spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday in response.

Last week Huyer announced that his office would review the 2018 suicides of nine active, or recently retired, police officers. The number is “far greater than we have seen in many years,” he said, noting that in that last few years there have generally been fewer than five.

The coroner’s office has not released the identities of the officers, but one was a Waterloo Regional officer. None of the 2018 suicides were Toronto police officers.

Huyer hopes the review will have an impact across the province, saying his panel will look for systemic approaches to police wellness and identify reasons why distressed officers aren’t getting the help they need. But the coroner’s review is limiting its examination to the affected police services of the nine officers who died, unlike a broader review that would be undertaken by the OIPRD.

Huyer notes, however, that he may ask other police services for their wellness programs for officers.

Former Ontario ombudsman André Marin said a province-wide, independent probe is needed. Marin’s 2012 report, In the Line of Duty, concluded the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services were “reluctant” to support officers suffering from mental health challenges connected to workplace stress.

In an interview, Marin said he believes little has changed since the release of his report, which made recommendations ranging from counteracting stigma to collecting information about police services’ mental health supports.

He noted that three OPP officers died by suicide within a three week-span this past summer, prompting the provincial police force to launch an internal review.

“It’s hard to say whether or not, had this been addressed more seriously, these suicides would have been preventable,” Marin said. “But there are many that feel they have been given the short shrift.”

“I don’t think this is a problem that’s going away any time soon,” he said.

The ability to perform a broad examination of a policing issue in Ontario is among the OIPRD’s greatest powers, and the work undertaken through systemic reviews “has the most potential impact on policing in Ontario,” the agency said in its 2017-2018 annual report.

Complex and resource-intensive undertakings, the 10-year-old agency has completed three systemic reviews to date, including a comprehensive and scathing report on Thunder Bay Police death investigations, released last month. The watchdog is in the midst of two others, examining policies around strip searches and police use of force against people in mental health crisis.

In his recent review of police oversight in Ontario, Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch specifically highlighted the importance of OIPRD systemic reviews, saying inquiries into policing issues should not be wholly left to “the whim of the government of the day.”

“The OIPRD should be properly resourced and funded to study and report on systemic issues in policing,” Tulloch wrote in his report.

Among Tulloch’s recommendations was that the agency receive funding and resources to bolster its investigations. When the previous Liberal government passed its Safer Ontario Act — omnibus policing legislation which acted in part on Tulloch’s report — the OIPRD began implementing plans that included hiring more staff.

But additional resources for the agency are now in limbo, due to a hiring freeze across the public service in June, and then the decision by Doug Ford’s Tory government this summer to halt and review the Safer Ontario Act.

Parker, the OIPRD spokesperson, said the agency is “not in a position” to spend the entirety its 2019 budget of $11.8 million, “partly due to the expenditure freeze, but also because the agency is awaiting the government’s review of the Safer Ontario Act,” she said.

Rogers stresses that she is pleased Huyer has launched his review, saying it will at least garner more attention to the issue of police mental health. Although she feels “nothing has changed” in the years since her husband’s death, she is buoyed by the belief that the younger generation of police officers are more willing to speak out if they are facing a mental health challenge stemming from the job.

“Whereas the older guys, who have been around for a while, their idea of handling (mental health issues) was to go out drinking after a shift,” she said.

With Star files

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Military reports 15 suicides in 2018 despite new prevention strategy

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has promised to redouble efforts to prevent suicide in the Canadian Forces after new figures showed more than a dozen members of the military took their own lives last year.

The deaths coincided with new services and supports aimed at preventing such tragedies, underlining the complexity of the challenge facing the military and government.

Fifteen Canadian Forces members killed themselves in 2018, according to the Department of National Defence.

That was one fewer than the previous year and represented the fourth year in a row in which the number of military suicides declined since a rash of suicides in 2013 cast a spotlight on the issue.

It nonetheless fell short of a breakthrough after the National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada unveiled a new suicide-prevention strategy in late 2017.

The strategy included promises to improve the services and support available to current military members and veterans in the hopes of increasing awareness and reducing the number of suicides in both populations.

Defence Department spokesman Derek Abma said there has been « an impressive amount of work » done to better support the mental health of military members and their families since the strategy was launched.

That includes adding more medical staff, training personnel on how to respond if someone shows warning signs for suicide and introducing new measures to ease the transition to civilian life for those leaving the Forces.

Sajjan: we must do better

Sajjan, however, admitted in a statement on Wednesday that « we must always strive to do better, » adding: « Every time we lose a member of our Canadian Armed Forces to suicide, it is felt by us all. One suicide is too many.

« While there is no simple solution or easy answer, we will continue to evolve and improve the strategy as we expand our understanding of suicide and mental health and move forward on implementing solutions. »

Of the 15 military personnel who died by suicide last year, 13 were full-time members while the other two were reservists. The figures do not say how many were men or women.

While the Canadian Forces for years resisted suggestions service members were more at risk of suicide than the general public, a landmark study from Veterans Affairs Canada last year suggested the opposite.

155 suicides since 2010 

The results, based on a comprehensive review of records from 1976 to 2012, showed that the risk of suicide among male veterans of all ages was 36 per cent higher than in men who had never served in the Canadian military.

Even more worrying was that the risk was significantly higher among younger male veterans, with those under 25 being 242 per cent more likely to kill themselves than non-veterans of the same age.

The risk among female veterans was also found to be alarmingly high: 81 per cent greater than for women who hadn’t served. Age was not found to be as significant a factor when it came to female veterans.

At the same time, more than 155 active service members have taken their own lives since 2010. That nearly equals the 158 killed while serving in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014.

National Defence’s suicide-prevention strategy was endorsed by a variety of groups, including the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

Some veterans’ groups and advocates, however, remained unsure at the time about how it would be implemented.

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Ottawa ready to help as Inuit health officials grapple with spate of suicides

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The federal government says it will respond to pleas for help from northern Quebec, where a spate of suicides in Inuit communities this year has created what officials are calling a crisis.

« As a government, it’s truly a priority of ours that we put in place the support that people need, » Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Monday. She added that any loss of life by suicide « is just tragic. »

Heath authorities in Nunavik, the Quebec region that is home to the province’s Inuit communities, have already sent extra mental-health resources to one hard hit village, Puvirnituq.

« This is considered a crisis situation, » Fabien Pernet, assistant to the executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, said in a recent interview.

The head of the school board serving the region said last week that two students have died by suicide since the beginning of the school year in mid-August, and three other young adults have taken their lives in the past month.

Support « desperately needed »

In an Oct. 12 letter, the head of the region’s council of school commissioners called for « urgent collective action » and noted that one of the suicide victims was just 11 years old.

According to media reports, Puvirnituq on Hudson Bay has had at least 10 suicides since the beginning of 2018. A coroner’s investigation is ongoing.

The deaths prompted a public lament from Mary Simon, a longtime Inuit advocate and former Canadian diplomat, who posted a widely shared message on Facebook about the recent suicide of her 22-year-old niece.

« The reason I’m telling this story is to show we desperately need ongoing mental health support and services in every Inuit community, » Simon wrote. « We have a crisis on our hands, and if we can’t provide the medical and other mental health support in the communities, it is not going to get better. It will get worse. »

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said in a statement last Friday she is deeply concerned by the loss of young lives in Nunavik and has offered additional support. She said the government continues to work with communities to support Inuit-led approaches to suicide prevention.

Challenges remain

« Inuit want to be able to receive services that are culturally appropriate, in their own language, » Petitpas Taylor said Monday after speaking at the Canadian Mental Health Association conference in Montreal. « So we’re looking at ways to get more people trained — in nursing, in psychology or social work — that would be a step in the right direction. »

Pernet said it remains a challenge to provide Inuit-to-Inuit mental health care — as well as health and social services on a broader level — because of such obstacles as labour agreements and professional licensing issues.

He said that in 2010, suicide prevention was made a regional health priority. Recent measures have included resources and support through a Facebook page, new crisis-intervention plans and social programs aimed at improving communication among families.

Statistics from the Quebec coroner’s office show little change in the number of deaths by suicide in the region between 2000 and 2013.

But given the current crisis, there is reason to believe those figures will be higher this year.

« There’s no actual improvement from 2000 to 2013, but there’s a lot that has been implemented from 2013 until today, » Pernet said.

« If you compare where we were four years ago and where we are at now, we’ve developed a capacity that we didn’t have. Yet it’s not sufficient, and we see it with these suicide clusters happening in Puvirnituq again. »

Symptom of a social disease

Louis Sorin, a Manitoba-based Indigenous mental-health advocate, said it is important to look at suicide as a symptom of a social disease and not just an individual medical condition.

« We have to move beyond an individualized response to a collective and community response, » Sorin, a member of the national board of directors of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said.

« We have to make space and validate the voices of those involved locally, because they really know something that’s actually very important. »

An annual conference being held next week in Nunavik will focus on the rash of deaths.

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