Saskatchewan has Canada’s highest suicide rate but no plan to fix it

IndigNation by Bev Cardinal

“We will be known forever by the track we leave.” —Dakota Elder

Our Elders tell us everything happens for a reason; that all things in life are connected. Because I also live and breathe this world view, I’ve been looking for opportunities at every turn of this pandemic. There have been many. But while it’s one thing to recognize there may be opportunity here to “make lemonade out of lemons”, it’s a totally different thing to take the action needed to actually make the opportunity a reality.

Turbulence At 50,000 Feet

It’s already clear the COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have dire economic consequences, and some governments might now be giving thought as to what policies can better ensure economic resilience and recovery. But there is also alarming evidence that there will be emotional damage to humankind caused by the pandemic. This damage — beyond the ravaging physical illness and staggering number of deaths — is manifesting itself as trauma and resulting in increases in depression and anxiety, increases in domestic violence, increases in homelessness, increases in drug and alcohol abuse and addictions, and the ultimate human trauma: increases in suicide and suicide attempts.

But what does this all mean when you’re provincial politicians in positions of privilege and power, travelling at 50,000 feet with your head in the clouds and your feet so far off the ground you can’t see anything but white, fluffy marshmallow clouds? It’s understandable if they can’t distinguish the forest from the trees. After all, it’s tough at the top, trying to pilot the “pandemic plane”. But down here on Mother Earth, the people, we ain’t doin’ so good — even before COVID knocked us on our asses.

Lost Opportunity

In Saskatchewan, if anyone’s naive enough to think that this current provincial government will be able or, more importantly, willing to take our collective trauma seriously and make that lemonade, we’re kidding ourselves. All we have to do is look at how quickly and inexcusably Scott Moe and his ilk unanimously defeated NDP MLA Doyle Vermette’s private member’s bill proposing the development of a provincial suicide prevention strategy. Not once. But twice. And yet Doyle persisted with his work. Why, you ask? Because Saskatchewan has the highest suicide rate in the country. Our two largest police services (Saskatoon and Regina) have identified alarming increases in the number of suicide-related calls they’ve responded to in the past few months. In Regina, it’s close to four calls per day. Saskatchewan’s rate of suicide has steadily increased every year for the past three. Our suicide rate is nearly double the national per capita average.

To put a visible face on it, suicide is highest in our northern communities, within our Indigenous populations, and among our Indigenous youth. But don’t ever discount the insidious reach of suicide. I would venture to say that almost everyone in our province has been touched directly or indirectly by suicide. Just think about that for a moment. And make no mistake — the act of suicide is the outcome of more sinister, unresolved roots of social collapse related to intergenerational and unresolved traumas, poverty and financial desperation, homelessness, addictions, inaccessible supports, family breakdowns, and especially undiagnosed and unaddressed mental illness and emotional trauma.

If you have a voice, you have power. Use it. Connect with your respective MLA and urge them to take this issue seriously. To make this an election issue. To make it a human rights issue. We must all make this a personal issue…because it affects everyone of us, and we ignore it at our peril.

Honouring Shelly

Every single day I grieve the loss of my sister Shelly who died by suicide 20 years ago. Could a provincial suicide prevention strategy have saved our beloved sister, aunt, niece, cousin and friend Shelly Helen Pelletier from ending her life in January 2000? We’ll never know.

All we do know is that death by suicide in our province is the HIGHEST in the nation. There was an opportunity to make some lemonade just last month, in spite of the sickening virus surrounding us and overtaking our lives. There was no leadership to take this on. They said they wanted to do more research. There was only more rhetoric. Rhetoric has never cured anything. They’re all cowards and should be ashamed.

maskawâtisik kahkiyaw (“Stay well, everyone”)!