To coincide with Children’s Mental Health Week (May 2 – 8), an Ontario mental health organization has released the results of a nationwide survey showing that one in five Canadians has contemplated or attempted suicide.
This means that more than 7 million Canadians—22 percent—have considered suicide, says Peter Moore, executive director with Kinark Child and Family Services, the non-profit specializing in children’s mental health that conducted the survey.
Moore likens the number of people affected to the population of Toronto and Vancouver combined. “When you have that visual picture, it’s quite staggering,” he says.
“Under the surface there are significant mental health issues in this country and we know that they often start in childhood, so we want to get this information out about adults and let people know that this can be prevented.”
Coincidentally, the same number of children and youth—one in five—across the country struggles with mental health issues.
“We know that one in five youth has a diagnosable mental illness, we know that 80 percent of kids incarcerated in the youth justice system have mental illness, and we know that the leading cause of death after accidents—for teenagers—is suicide,” Moore says.
The Kinark poll also found that a full 99 percent of the 1,000 respondents view mental health as important as physical health.
However, the emphasis on physical well-being surpasses the support provided to those suffering from mental illness. According to Kinark, children diagnosed with broken bones or juvenile diabetes get same-day treatment while it can take weeks or months for a child with bi-polar disorder to receive treatment.
In addition, the stigma long associated with mental health disorders is still alive and well, says Moore, with parents’ reluctance to acknowledge that their child may have a problem preventing them from seeking help.
“We did a study a couple of years ago and we found that half of mothers and two-thirds of fathers would be ashamed to admit that their child had attempted suicide,” he says.
“I think truly parents know that the behaviour isn’t quite what it should be with their kids, but they’re really, really hoping that it’s not true and wanting it not to be true and avoiding the situation, because they are ashamed.”
Until recently, Quebec held the unenviable top spot for suicides in the industrial world, but interventions are now beginning to show results.
Suicide prevention programs in high schools, a province-wide 24-hour suicide help line, and suicide training workshops have helped, as have two research centres.
Despite marked improvements, however, suicide remains the leading cause of death among young men in Quebec.
“Even if things are getting better, Quebec still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world,” Michel Presseault, co-ordinator of Suicide Action Montreal, told the Montreal Gazette.
“We still get about 20,000 calls a year,” he said. “So even if the suicide rate is down, there are still many people in Quebec with severe depression who need help.”
With depression affecting increasingly younger people, Moore says it’s crucial to address mental health problems before they become a diagnosable illness.
“There’s so much going on in our world, and so much media, so much the kids are confronted with, that we really need to pay attention to mental well-being and mental health.”