‘More needs to be done:’ Province unveils suicide prevention plan

Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding. (Herald file photo)

The provincial government has released a five-pillar plan aimed at reducing alarming rates of suicide in Saskatchewan.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 29 in Canada, resulting in about 4,000 deaths across the country per year.

In Saskatchewan, roughly 144 people lose their lives to suicide in a year. In the northern part of the province, it’s the leading causing of death for people ages 10 to 49.

“Suicide has literally touched everyone in this province in one way, shape or form—on a personal basis, family basis or on a community basis,” said Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding.

“Honestly, if we can save one person from suicide, this plan is a success.”

Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan is based on categories developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). These pillars are specialized supports, training, awareness, means restrictions and means safety and research, surveillance and evaluation.

The actions under each are specific to suicide prevention in Saskatchewan’s context.

The following are summaries of the plan’s first year actions.

Pillar One – Specialized Supports

In pillar one, specialized supports, the government committed to enhancing and evaluating investments for mental health and addictions. Additionally, it will ensure the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) implements recommendations from the provincial auditor for patients in northwest Saskatchewan.

These recommendations include providing training for staff in the northwest, addressing barriers to using videoconferencing to provide psychiatric services and following up with patients who attempted suicide to encourage treatment where needed.

Pillar Two – Training

In terms of training, the plan says the government will expand mental health first aid training across the province and among other human service sectors and ministries, support specialized skill development opportunities for mental health clinicians and support the SHA in providing a range of cultural response training.

Pillar Three – Awareness

Pillar three involves launching an awareness campaign targeted at youth—particularly in northern Saskatchewan—and building awareness of the suicide prevention work currently underway through the three Roots of Hope initiatives in Meadow Lake, Buffalo Narrows and La Ronge.

It also includes supporting initiatives in schools, including post-secondary.

Pillar Four – Means Restriction and Means Safety

The year one actions under pillar four touch on improving infrastructure within hospitals, particularly inpatient mental health centres, to reduce the risk of suicide. This pillar also includes disseminating lessons learned and promising practices in means restriction and means safety by Saskatchewan communities participating in Roots of Hope.

Pillar Five – Research, Surveillance and Evaluation

Pillar five, research, surveillance and evaluation, includes understanding the differences between gender, age, race and communities in terms of suicide and self-harm. This will, in turn, support planning, designing and implementing suicide prevention strategies.

It also focuses on developing an evaluation framework for Pillars of Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan.

Kaeding said about $1.2 million will be provided to these first year actions, coming out of the $435 million dedicated to mental health and addictions in the 2020-21 budget.

The plan comes nearly six months after Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation leaders declared a state of emergency due to a spate of suicides and suicide attempts. The community of under 1,000 people is located northwest of Prince Albert.

In response, Chief Ronald Mitsuing called on all levels of government for support. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous (FSIN) also called for a regional suicide prevention strategy.

“Suicide prevention and mental health are key priorities for our government, and we recognize that more needs to be done,” said Kaeding.

He said work has been underway for a while.

“We were able to look across Canada through the provinces and territories and determine what some of the best practices were there and what some of the initiatives were that were successful as well as those that failed and why did they fail. We’ve talked to psychiatrists, we’ve talked to experts in the field. There continues to be an open door for better engagement for everyone as we go through this.”

Kaeding said the approach will be multi-ministerial, involving education, justice and health, for example.