Child advocate releases special report on 22 youth suicides
WINNIPEG -- In the span of one year, more than 30 children, youth and young adults under the age of 21 died by suicide in Manitoba, according to the province’s child advocate, who is calling for action in a new special report.
Poor service access, a lack of coordination and inconsistent service quality for Manitoba youth are all themes, Daphne Penrose, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, outlined in a special report released Thursday morning called “Stop giving me a number and start giving me a person.”
Penrose writes that between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019 there were 32 children, youth and young adults under the age of 21 who died by suicide.
“These numbers are particularly staggering when we consider that suicide is preventable, if appropriate interventions are targeted and available early,” Penrose writes, adding suicide is the leading manner of death for Manitoba young people between the ages of 10 and 17.
The report looks into the suicide deaths of 22 Manitoba girls – most of whom were Indigenous - between 2013 and 2019, who were receiving child welfare services at the time of their deaths, or one year prior to their death.
The names of the girls were changed for privacy reasons. The report shows that 90 per cent of them had parents or caregivers who used drugs or alcohol. The majority of the girls had a history of suicidal thoughts, lived in unstable housing and experienced violence at home. About 68 per cent experienced bullying.
The report details the lives of these girls – most who were receiving care from child-welfare agencies and lived in most of their lives in rural or isolated communities.
Penrose documents the life of one girl who took her own life when she was only 11-years-old. The report said there is no documentation that this girl received support despite there being evidence of mental health challenges in her life many years earlier.
“Their lives and their voices are reflected in the seven recommendations I am making today – recommendations designed to increase government transparency, accountability and effectiveness,” Penrose writes in the report.
“Of note, their overall message was clear: when they need help, what they want is to be connected to knowledgeable people who care and who can show them the way from pain and loneliness to healing and connection.”
The seven recommendations outlined in the report are:
- Health, Seniors and Active Living conduct a gap analysis of the youth mental health and addictions system
- Health, Seniors and Active Living demonstrate equitable access to services
- The Government of Manitoba provide early childhood trauma education and training about trauma and its effects
- The Government of Manitoba conduct an annual review of what therapeutic trauma interventions are available to children and youth in Manitoba and create an inventory of resources
- Health, Seniors and Active Living, in collaboration with rural communities in Manitoba, and the federal government create more youth hubs
- Health, Seniors and Active Living, in collaboration with rural communities in Manitoba, and the federal government create focal points outside of Winnipeg
- The Government of Manitoba develop an inpatient or community-based long-term treatment resource that offers stabilization, assessment, treatment, and aftercare for youth who are at the top tier of mental health and addictions care needs, and for whom less intensive options have been ineffective.
“As needed dollars for youth mental health and addictions care are being spent on other government priorities, Manitobans must understand the impacts these decisions are having on kids,” Penrose writes, adding funding for youth is being used elsewhere.
You can read the full report online.
MANITOBA OPPOSITION CALLS FOR IMPROVEMENTS TO YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Following the release of the special report, both the Manitoba NDP and Liberals called on the province to implement the recommendations.
“We have known for many years that Manitoba has a weak mental health system, and this report lays that out all for all to see,” Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface, said in a news release. “Mental health care is health care, and we are going to have to invest in these life-saving services whether there is a pandemic or not.”
NDP mental health critic Bernadette Smith, MLA for Point Douglas, asked the government invest in more targeted mental health and wellness supports for youth.
"This report makes clear there are gaps in services for youth who are struggling with suicidal ideation and mental health. It's also no surprise that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged kids – young people in the North – are unable to access much needed supports and services," she said in a news release.
“We need a long-term sustainable anti-suicide strategy for youth that invests in the mental health system and supports all communities. It’s the right thing to do for Manitoba’s young people.”
HEALTH MINISTER TO CONSIDER REPORT RECCOMENDATIONS
Manitoba's Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen said the recommendations made in the report will be considered by the province across all departments to develop solutions.
"The death of every child is a tragedy. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go to families and loved ones who have lost a child to suicide," Friesen said in a written statement. "We are committed to working together with organizations, communities and families to help improve the lives of our children and youths."
He said the province has made investments to improve timely access to youth mental health services, including the Child and Youth Mental Health Assessment and Treatment at HSC Children’s Hospital Emergency Department to respond to youth suicide.
Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the Manitoba suicide prevention and support line at 1-877-435-7170. More crisis support resources can be found online at Klinic Community Health.
-with files from the Canadian Press