‘We need real ac­tions, with real funds’

Psy­chol­o­gist calls for new sui­cide pre­ven­tion strat­egy in Nova Sco­tia

Annapolis Valley Register - - NEWS - SALTWIRE NET­WORK RE­GIONAL

Dr. Si­mon Sherry says Nova Sco­tia has to get se­ri­ous about sui­cide pre­ven­tion.

“We need real ac­tions with real funds and real dead­lines,” the Hal­i­fax-based clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “Now we have a largely un­co­or­di­nated ap­proach, we have an out-of-date ap­proach. When you go to the prov­ince’s sui­cide pre­ven­tion web­site, there are seven links, three of them are bro­ken and in­op­er­a­ble.”

In Septem­ber, Sherry is­sued a call for a new sui­cide pre­ven­tion strat­egy in Nova Sco­tia. It was sparked by his ex­pe­ri­ences as men­tal health care provider in Nova Sco­tia and an alarm­ing rise in sui­cides in the prov­ince in re­cent years.

Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, there were 134 sui­cides in Nova Sco­tia in 2016, com­pared to 2000 when there were 75 deaths.

“Be­tween the years of 2000 and 2012, Nova Sco­tia’s sui­cide rate in­creased more than any other prov­ince in Canada,” Sherry said. “Over that time pe­riod, we went from be­ing a prov­ince that in com­par­i­son to the na­tional av­er­age had a be­low-av­er­age sui­cide rate to a prov­ince that now in com­par­i­son to the na­tional av­er­age has an above-av­er­age sui­cide rate.

“Why? Part of any provin­cial sui­cide pre­ven­tion strat­egy should be very care­ful sur­veil­lance of the pop­u­la­tion. We should be track­ing and un­der­stand­ing the trends within our pop­u­la­tion when it comes to sui­cide. We do not have a nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of what’s driv­ing these in­creases.”

Nova Sco­tia’s sui­cide pre­ven­tion strat­egy, based on re­search done in 2004, is badly out­dated, he said, point­ing to Que­bec, which ded­i­cates $700,000 per year to sui­cide pre­ven­tion, as an ex­am­ple of how govern­ment ac­tion can make a dif­fer­ence.

“In 1998, they had an alarm­ingly high sui­cide rate, much higher than any other prov­ince in Canada and they started putting spe­cific funds to ac­com­plish spe­cific tasks by spe­cific dead­lines into a sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­gram,” Sherry said. “They dropped their sui­cide rate by 30 per cent over­all and, most im­pres­sively, by 50 per cent in youth.”

Que­bec fol­lowed World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­to­cols to pro- vide ed­u­ca­tion, train ad­di­tional pro­fes­sion­als and make a pub­lic com­mit­ment to re­duce sui­cide, said Sherry, who’s also a pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Psy­chol­ogy and Neu­ro­science at Dal­housie Univer­sity.

Sui­cide pre­ven­tion ad­vo­cate Lau­rel Walker said Sherry is “right on the money” about the need for bet­ter fund­ing and im­proved ac­cess to ser­vices.

Walker has strug­gled with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety since she was a teenager. She had to leave the prov­ince to re­ceive treat­ment for acute stress disor­der, which was sparked by the sui­cide of a woman she was help­ing as a men­tal health peer coun­sel­lor in 2012.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to get the help that you need when you need it,” said Walker, who along with her friend Fran Mor­ri­son, whose son took his own life in 2011, heads the group # HowManyNSHA


“Our sys­tem is built around Band- aid so­lu­tions and only treat­ing the worst when they have to go to the ER and they’re re­ally in cri­sis,” Walker said. “If we had things set up, pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures, when some­one reaches out the first time, their calls would not be ig­nored, they would be pointed in the right di­rec­tion.”

Sherry said the health sys­tem par­tic­u­larly needs to do a bet­ter job in work­ing with vul­ner­a­ble groups such as peo­ple with schizophre­nia, bipo­lar disor­der and se­vere de­pres­sion, who are “at ul­tra-high risk” to en­gage in sui­ci­dal be­hav­iour.

“We need to make more ac­ces­si­ble psy­chother­apy and med­i­ca­tions that will com­bat those forms of men­tal ill­ness.”

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