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The Hon. Terry M. Mercer, D.C.L, B.A., C.F.R.E. Appointed to the Senate by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien in November 2003, Senator Terry M. Mercer represents the province of Nova Scotia and the Senatorial Division of Northend Halifax.

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Motion to Establish National Suicide Prevention Strategy

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Statement made on 30 November 2011 by Senator Elizabeth Hubley

Hon. Elizabeth Hubley:

Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of the motion by Senator Dawson for the creation of a national suicide prevention strategy. I thank Senator Dawson for bringing forward this motion and bringing attention to this important and too often neglected aspect of national health.

Despite being one of the leading causes of death in our country, suicide has a stigma attached to it and we, as a society, still tend to shy away from discussing this national health issue and what we can do to prevent it. It is a serious health issue, especially among our youth and our Aboriginal and Inuit peoples.

On November 1, 2011, Statistics Canada released their latest report on causes of death in Canada. The information presented in this report is based on 2008 data and is currently the most recent compilation available. This report revealed that in 2008, 3,705 Canadians died from suicide.

That places suicide tenth on the list of all causes of death in this country. Suicide accounts for 1.6 per cent of all deaths — virtually unchanged from the year 2000 when suicide accounted for 1.7 per cent of all deaths. If we look a bit deeper into the information provided in this report, we easily find other astonishing data. First, suicide claims males three times more than females. When the data are broken down by gender, we see that suicide jumps from tenth on the list to seventh on the list of causes of death for males. Looking at the data by age group, we find that suicide is the second most common cause of death in the 15 to 24 age group and also in the 25 to 34 age group. Only accidents claim more victims in these groups.

It is the third most common cause of death from ages 35 to 44 and the fourth most common cause from ages 45 to 54.

The tragedy of suicide is particularly evident in our Aboriginal communities. Senator Dawson pointed out in his speech that the rate of suicide in First Nations people is double that of the general population and with Inuit people it is six to eight times higher. We can see this reflected in the Statistics Canada numbers. In the Northwest Territories, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death, and in Nunavut it is the second leading cause of death.

Honourable senators, let me add by voice to the chorus calling for a national strategy on suicide. It is time for action. Canada is falling behind other countries in this regard. Countries such as England, the United States, Australia, Finland and Sweden have all either developed a national strategy or are in the process of developing such a strategy. Each of these countries has recognized the consequences of suicide. They have stood up and declared that suicide cannot be a shameful little secret anymore, that it is a national concern. They all recognize the importance of making suicide a national issue. They have recognized that not only is suicide a concern, but that it is often preventable. Timely and proper intervention can save many lives, allowing people to again be healthy and productive citizens and spare families and friends left behind grief and anguish.

Although we have to promote a national suicide strategy, we also have to put this in a broader context. In addition to a specific suicide strategy, mental health has to be recognized as an important component of public health. We need to equip people with the tools to deal with difficult times and with the knowledge and education that they will use throughout their lives. We need to have the system in place to deal with people in crisis, but we also need to give thought to how to keep people from reaching this point. The old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure also holds true in the field of mental health.

Honourable senators, I encourage you to support this motion for a national suicide strategy.

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