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Northern Sask. suicide prevention plan needed more consultation: advocates

Mental health organizations are questioning the government’s approach when it comes to a new suicide prevention plan focused on mental health and suicide in Saskatchewan’s north.
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Mental health organizations are questioning the government’s approach when it comes to a new suicide prevention plan focused on mental health and suicide in Saskatchewan’s north.

The government released plans for their Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan at the beginning of May, with Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding saying that mental health continues to be a priority in Saskatchewan.

“This plan will guide activities specific to suicide prevention based on Saskatchewan’s context.  It was informed by careful consideration of approaches across the country and international best practice,” said Kaeding in the May 8 press release. The Pillars for Life will be established in three Saskatchewan communities: La Ronge, Meadow Lake and Buffalo Narrows.

For Rebecca Rackow, director of advocacy research and public policy development for the Canadian Mental Health Association, there was little consultation with organizations who are at the grassroots level who continue to try to provide support for these communities.

“The unfortunate thing is that they didn't collaborate with any community based organizations such as ourselves when they created this. Some of us who get a lot of calls from people with lived experience or family members didn't have any input into that at all.”

Rackow said from her understanding, most of the collaboration for the project took place between the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

“It's good, but it's not good enough. There should have been community members and community based organizations consulted as well, because about one per cent of the time that people exist with suicide ideation is in the hospital and the other 99 per cent of the time they're in community.”

Gary Tinker has lived with the consequences of suicide his whole life, losing his dad to suicide when he was 14 years old. Since then, Tinker said it took a lot of work on his own mental health before he was able to talk openly about what he went through. Since then he has formed the Gary Tinker Federation for the Disabled Inc. in Pinehouse, Sask. where he advocates for better disability services for people in the north.

Mental health professionals easily get burned out from the workload in northern communities, he said. People are tired.

Even if he was able to access services in the central and southern areas of the province, one trip to go see a mental health worker in Saskatoon would cost him $900 a trip, he said.

“If I want to see a mental health worker, I have to get into a medical taxi, go see them in La Ronge. If I don't want to see her because she's too overloaded sometimes, I have to make a way to go to Prince Albert. But again, transportation services are not therefore sometimes.”

Suicide is not the only aspect of mental health that need to be addressed with new programs. For Tinker when he was going through depression, he had to have suicidal ideations in order to receive help and there are others who have gone through the same, he said.

Looking at depression and anxiety and root causes of suicidal ideation, like poverty, housing issues, economic instability, other big picture factors, are missing from this suicide prevention plan, Rackow said. Prevention should include so much more than just looking at people who are having suicidal ideations.

“Anxiety, depression and PTSD are the three most common mental health issues that lead to suicide ideation. There can be preventative screening in some ways to make sure that people are getting help early on, and that people continue to be in a good place and treatment wise.”

Rackow has travelled a lot within the north and sees many facilities that practice cultural ways of healing with good outcomes. Analyzing and supporting those programs that work should be a bigger part of the mental health conversation.

“We really have to look at who are we helping and making sure that it's culturally relevant.”

There has been a history in the province of action plans being created through government and community groups with few resources to actually put action into the plan, Rackow said. It is her sincere hope that the creation of this newest suicide prevention plan that sufficient resources are brought in to make the plan effective.