City sui­cide rate stays high

Penticton Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By JOE FRIES

The adult sui­cide rate in Pen­tic­ton has been stub­bornly high – reach­ing nearly three times the na­tional av­er­age – in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to data ob­tained from the BC Coroners Ser­vice.

In­for­ma­tion pro­vided to The Her­ald in re­sponse to a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest shows 11 adults took their own lives here in 2016, which works out to a rate of about 33 sui­cides per 100,000 per peo­ple.

That com­pares to a na­tional rate of 11.5 in 2013, the most re­cent year for which data is avail­able from Statis­tics Canada.

In gen­eral, most sui­cide vic­tims are sin­gle men, be­tween the ages of 50 and 59, who own firearms, ac­cord­ing to Dr. David Klon­sky, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of B.C.

He was re­luc­tant, how­ever, to draw any con­clu­sions about the cause of Pen­tic­ton’s seem­ingly high sui­cide rate be­cause the num­bers ob­tained by The Her­ald are rel­a­tively small and don’t speak to gun own­er­ship.

Firearms are the most lethal method of sui­cide, ex­plained Klon­sky, so if Pen­tic­ton has a high rate of gun own­er­ship that could help ex­plain the data.

“For­tu­nately, most sui­cide at­tempts do not re­sult in death, and most peo­ple who at­tempt sui­cide and sur­vive do not go on to die by sui­cide. So it’s not the case that if some­one has de­cided to die by sui­cide that they will find a way even if their first at­tempt doesn’t work or is blocked,” he added.

“The sur­vival rate is over 90 per cent. In other words, more than 90 per cent of peo­ple who make a po­ten­tially lethal at­tempt do not go on to die by sui­cide, so keep­ing peo­ple alive is re­ally im­por­tant.”

Re­quests for com­ment from the In­te­rior Health Au­thor­ity and the lo­cal branch of the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion were both de­clined.

Mean­while, eight peo­ple took their own lives in Pen­tic­ton through Aug. 31, put­ting the city on track for 12 sui­cides by the end of 2017 – the most in at least seven years.

Pen­tic­ton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit was con­cerned by the data and said is­sues sur­round­ing men­tal health – plus associated prob­lems of ad­dic­tions and home­less­ness – are a pri­or­ity for the city’s elected of­fi­cials.

“Coun­cil will con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for pro­grams and re­sources for lo­cal ser­vice providers who work hard to sup­port those who suf­fer from poor men­tal health, ad­dic­tions and lack of ap­pro­pri­ate hous­ing,” he said in a state­ment, which noted coun­cil met last month with the new pro­vin­cial min­is­ter of men­tal health re­gard­ing such mat­ters.

Jakubeit added that coun­cil will later this month con­sider a re­quest for sup­port from the YES Project, which is work­ing to build a youth re­sources cen­tre in Pen­tic­ton.

“The ef­forts of the YES group will save lives and it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity as a com­mu­nity to do our part to help pro­vide a life­line for our youth,” the mayor said.

“There are no easy so­lu­tions, but if you want to make an im­me­di­ate im­pact, do­nat­ing to the YES Project will help.

The Her­ald also re­quested statis­tics from the BC Coroners Ser­vice in­di­cat­ing how many youth had taken their own lives in each of the past six years, but re­ceived back only par­tial data.

There were no con­firmed youth sui­cides here from 2011 through 2013, but the BC Coroners Ser­vice re­fused to re­lease data for the years since, claim­ing it’s re­quired by pol­icy to mask such in­for­ma­tion for pri­vacy rea­sons if the num­ber is five or less.

The Her­ald asked two weeks ago to be re­ferred to that spe­cific pol­icy, but re­ceived no re­sponse. The Her­ald will ap­peal the de­ci­sion not to pro­vide the data.

To reach a cri­sis cen­tre near you, call 1-800-SUI­CIDE. On­line chat is also avail­able at

AMANDA SHORT/Pen­tic­ton Her­ald file photo

An RCMP of­fi­cer ap­proaches a man who climbed atop the roof of the Pen­tic­ton Trade and Con­ven­tion Cen­tre in July while suf­fer­ing through a men­tal-health cri­sis.The man was later taken into cus­tody with­out in­ci­dent.

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