Jan 31, 2024

Faculty members urge the Canadian government to launch a national strategy to prevent suicide

A Canadian flag hangs outside, catching the light of the sun that is rising in the background..
By Ben Gane

A group of Canadian experts have published an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging Canada’s federal government to implement a national suicide-prevention strategy.

Organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) Partnerships for Life Global Initiative to Prevent Suicide, the letter argues that a national suicide-prevention strategy is an evidence-based way to decrease suicide rates in Canada, saving lives and avoiding the devastating impacts that suicide has on families and communities.

Every year, approximately 4,500 Canadians die by suicide. It is one of the country’s leading causes of death, particularly among young people.

Deaths by suicide can be prevented, say Allison Crawford and Mark Sinyor, who are two of the lead signatories. Both are U of T faculty members and psychiatrists practicing in Toronto.

Most people who experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide recover and go on to live happy lives, they say.

A blond woman in a black blazer smiling at the camera with a pink background behind her.
Dr. Allison Crawford

There are numerous interventions that can help those experiencing suicidal thoughts, including crisis helplines, peer support, and treatment of mental disorders such as depression, they add.

Broader social factors such as social safety nets, accessible health care, and organizational policies and culture that promote prevention and care for mental health also impact suicide rates, say Sinyor and Crawford.

The letter highlights that a large body of evidence has shown that the optimal way to prevent suicides involves nation-wide efforts, led by the highest level of government, and with cooperation across multiple sectors, say signatories.

“Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of national prevention strategies. Countries with national strategies often have lower nation-wide suicide rates than countries that do not have national strategies. It is also important that national strategies lead to coordinated efforts across multiple sectors and across the lifespan.” says Crawford.

A man with grey hair and glasses looks calmly at the camera. He is wearing a white and blue dress shirt, and the city is visible behind him.
Dr. Mark Sinyor

“There is a widespread consensus among experts that national suicide prevention strategies are the best approach to leverage resources effectively and prevent the most deaths by suicide,” says Sinyor.

Implementing a national strategy in Canada will not be without challenges, they say.

The country’s provincially based heath care system can make coordinating on the national level difficult. Canada has also fallen behind other countries. 30 high-income countries, including all of Canada’s fellow G7 nations, and more than 20 lower- and middle-income countries have already implemented national suicide prevention strategies, they add.

Despite these challenges, Canada has the expertise and the will to launch a strategy that could equal or exceed the world’s best.

“Canada consistently produces leading research on best practices in suicide prevention,” says Crawford. “Models created at the municipal and provincial levels have inspired programmes around the world. Canada is very well-position to become a world leader on the national level as well. We have the knowledge and expertise we need.”

The Government of Canada has also given the issue of suicide substantial attention, developing a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention and launching a 3-digit national crisis line number (988). This is a broad base of support from which the Federal government could effectively launch a national strategy.

The letter has more than 100 signatories who are experts from across Canada. It provides a powerful argument that Canada’s leaders in mental health are ready and willing to work together on a national strategy, they say.

“The number of Canadian and international experts that have lined up to add their names to this letter and to support this message demonstrates that our suicide prevention community are ready to step up to help our government make this a reality,” says Sinyor.

Sinyor and Crawford say while developing national strategy will be complex, the support the letter has received demonstrate the potential for such a strategy to benefit Canadians.

“We have the knowledge and expertise to implement a better approach to suicide prevention, help those who are struggling, and save lives,” says Crawford.