Original article no longer available
John Cotter, Canadian Press
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
EDMONTON (CP) – Carol Carson didn’t fathom the depth of her son Stephan’s depression until she found his body hanging in the basement of her Saskatoon home.
For weeks she had taken the bright, wisecracking 24-year-old to the family doctor and to hospital emergency rooms for what health providers told them were anxiety attacks. Doctors prescribed anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pills but always sent him home, saying he would have to wait four to six weeks for psychiatric care. Three weeks after his last visit, he hanged himself.
Carson never imagined her boy with the wry smile who had a job, a girlfriend and loved to play guitar would take his own life.
“It has hurt everybody so much. We weren’t told the things we should have been told,” Carson said.
“They have to be educated in the hospitals. You just can’t send them home. It’s a cry for help.”
Experiences such as Carson’s have prompted the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to launch a national strategy it hopes will reduce the more than 4,000 suicides that occur each year.
The sweeping plan, to be released Thursday, is designed to enhance and standardize the patchwork of suicide prevention programs across Canada.
Recommendations call on Ottawa and the provinces to establish public awareness and prevention programs for people suffering from depression, and to develop special programs targeting aboriginals, youth, gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Governments should support the use of technology and legislation to require the use of firearm locks, carbon monoxide shut-off controls, bridge barriers and medication containers.
The strategy says health-care providers need training to recognize suicide warning signs and risk factors.
Hospitals should be required to conduct follow-up checks within 24 hours after they discharge anyone considered to be at high risk.
The United States, Australia, New Zealand and many European countries already have national suicide prevention strategies.
It’s now Canada’s turn, said association president Dr. Paul Links, a psychiatrist who heads suicide prevention studies at the University of Toronto.
“There is no national leadership in this area,” said Links, who wants Ottawa to set specific goals to reduce the suicide rate. The association plans to present its report to the federal government later this year.
“The most successful strategies have the government on board and taking the initiative. It is a crucial aspect. We can do better.”
Provinces such as Ontario that have no such prevention programs must join in too, he said.
Research suggests that in addition to the 4,000 suicides, another 400,000 Canadians deliberately hurt themselves, sometimes seriously, each year.
Conditions that lead people to try to kill themselves are manifested in other social problems such as violence, substance abuse and family breakdown, the report says.