Last weekend, two more young people died by suicide in Northern Ontario. Each loss adds to the disturbingly high suicide rates among Indigenous youth. But statistics don’t help grieving families. They will feel the pain and loss forever. Each life lost is a tragedy beyond measure.
Each time a community is affected by suicide, there is a flurry of activity to mobilize counsellors, engage crisis teams and ensure local needs are met. There are urgent calls for more money and more mental health workers for affected regions.
In Budget 2017, our government pledged $118.2 million over five years to improve mental health services for First Nations and Inuit. This builds on $69 million announced last year to fund community-based workers and mental wellness teams, and to ensure there are counsellors in regions facing crisis. The number of communities supported by mental wellness teams will nearly triple by the third year, going from 86 to approximately 240. These teams serve multiple communities and go where they are needed, for as long as they are needed.
Two weeks ago I visited communities in Northern Ontario, where the crisis continues to have a devastating impact. I was impressed by their determination to break the cycle of despair. When I visited Wunnumin Lake First Nation, I learned about their Choose Life Project. This initiative will address suicide risk factors, particularly among youth, through on-the-land activities and programs for children to increase self-esteem and strengthen families.
This type of community-led programming is critical to solving this crisis. This is why we are working with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Ontario government to develop a long-term strategy to prevent suicides in that province.
However, ending the epidemic of youth suicide requires more than mental health care. Any oversimplification of the causes and solutions for this crisis does a disservice to the communities that are most affected. The roots of this crisis and its remedies are not mysterious, but they are complex. It took generations of discrimination to create the circumstances behind these suicides. Justice will not be restored overnight.
It can be shown by many measures — life expectancy, chronic diseases such as diabetes, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, infant mortality rates, suicide rates — that Indigenous peoples have suffered from systemic discrimination when it comes to health. Poor health outcomes and loss of hope for Indigenous youth also derive from a range of social inequities in areas such as education, employment, housing, and community infrastructure.
The current state of Indigenous health in Canada is a direct result of generations of previous government policies, including the impacts of residential schools. We need to dismantle the colonial structures of the past and reconcile our broken relationship with Indigenous peoples to improve quality of life in their communities.
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This content was originally published here.