REGINA – Saskatchewan has cut funding for suicide prevention a year after passing legislation to meet the challenge and despite a cabinet minister saying mental health is a government priority.
The Saskatchewan Party government has allocated $1 million this year to its Pillars For Life plan.
Data provided by the Department of Health shows that this is a decrease of $200,000 from the previous two years.
Mental Health Minister Everett Hindley said less funding was provided this year because the program no longer had start-up costs.
The Suicide Prevention Strategy Act, which passed in April 2021, requires the Department of Health to spend six months consulting with organizations, other provinces and the federal government to help develop a suicide prevention plan. suicide.
The architect of the legislation said the government was not enforcing it and not consulting.
“Nothing has come forward for the families I’ve spoken to,” said Doyle Vermette, opposition NDP mental health critic who sits in northern Saskatchewan.
Hindley said the government consulted with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in the province.
“Apart from this formal consultation, there are the less formal as community leaders,” he said.
Hindley pointed to $8 million in this year’s budget for mental health.
“We want to make sure the dollar figures are spent wisely,” he said. “And the people who live in those communities and seek help are seeing those benefits come to fruition.”
The Department of Health said most of Pillars for Life’s funding went to suicide prevention campaigns and Roots of Hope, a community project to reduce suicides in northern Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan’s coroner reported 204 suicides in 2021, an increase of five from the previous year, when the government first introduced Pillars For Life.
Data shows that Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected. They accounted for 41% of all suicides in the province last year, up from just over 16% of the population at a 2016 census.
Preliminary data shows another 34 people died by suicide in the first four months of this year.
Some proponents say the whole approach needs to be reformed.
“The government is making small changes, which help, but that’s not what we need. We need huge changes, especially for our young people,” said Chris Ball, whose son Kyed took his own life in 2017 aged 16.
A report released earlier this year by Saskatchewan’s Children’s Advocate says the province has failed to act on recommendations to improve mental health for decades.
Ball, who is Métis and continues to advocate for families, said it was “a nightmare trying to get help.”
Prior to his death, Kye was going back and forth to hospitals and struggling to get help, Ball said.
“We were refused to have our son in the (mental ward) a few times because they were full,” Ball said. “The system is broken.”
There is also a lack of psychiatrists and counselors in the province. Government data shows a nine-month wait for children and youth in Saskatoon to see a psychiatrist.
Vermette said the government needs to provide more resources to people. Many factors, including lack of activities, limited access to support, poor transportation and intergenerational trauma, continue to affect the mental health of Indigenous communities, he said.
“We just want to make sure the barriers aren’t there, (so) if someone reaches out for mental health (support), it’s there for them.
“We may not be able to save everyone, but man, what a difference if people knew they weren’t feeling alone.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 14, 2022.
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