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OPSEU calls for timely access to mental health and youth services following Sarnia suicides


OPSEU recently called upon the provincial government to ensure timely access to mental health and youth services following a series of suicides in the Sarnia community. 

OPSEU joined community members in calling for change following statistics showing higher-than-normal suicide deaths this year at a November 10 press conference in Sarna. Fourteen youths have taken their lives in that community.

“We’re drowning,” says Deb Gordon, Chair of OPSEU’s Child Treatment Sector. “In the past six months, St. Clair Child and Youth Services have received 34 crisis referrals from youth who had suicidal ideations or who have planned or attempted suicide. That is more crisis referrals than we received in an entire year from March 2009 to April 2010.”

Teen bullying and suicide have been in the media spotlight recently as several Hollywood celebrities have drawn attention to a topic often overlooked.  Although the reasons can vary, homophobia and bullying are major contributors to teen suicide.

“I believe there is a direct relationship between the funding crisis and the crisis with children and youth in this community.” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “There has been no increase to core funding for children and youth mental health services in 14 out of 17 years.  What that translates to is a 35% reduction in capacity to be responsive.”

The Ontario government has neglected youth mental illness leaving Ontario families to cope on their own. 

One in five children and youth meeting the criteria for mental health diagnosis but the majority of children will go untreated.

The press conference included OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas; Sahar Nasr, President, Board of Directors, St. Clair Child and Youth Services; Peter Smith, Chair, Children"s Mental Health Advocacy Committee of Sarnia-Lambton and Deb Gordon, OPSEU Child Treatment Sector Chair and staff member at St. Clair Child and Youth Services. 

By the numbers:

  • The average wait time for youth mental health services in Ontario is five months.
  • More than 90 per cent of suicide victims have a diagnosable psychiatric illness.
  • Someone in the world commits suicide every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.
  • In Canada suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 10 to 24 age group. The aboriginal youth suicide rate is four to six times that of non-natives.
  • In Ontario there are about 1,000 suicides every year. The Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention believes the real number is much higher.