B.C. report recommends mental-health improvements for child and youth suicide prevention

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      While widespread media coverage of the deaths of teen fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky recently touched upon the subject of youth suicide, a B.C. government report about child and youth suicide released today (August 15) offers recommendations on how the province can address this troubling and sensitive subject.

      A death review panel was assembled, consisting of 19 experts in youth services, child welfare, mental health, Indigenous health, education, income support, law enforcement, health research, and more.

      The panel examined 111 child and youth suicide deaths from January 1, 2013, to June 20, 2018, and built upon a previous child death review panel of suicides from 2008 to 2012.

      The review found that 41 percent of the individuals had a history of hospital admissions and over half of the individuals had a history of substance use.

      The review also found that within the specified time period, males died by suicide three times more than females, suicide rates were higher in rural areas, and a “disproportionate” number of Indigenous youth had died.

      Almost all of the individuals had experienced personal stressors, with over two-thirds reporting relationship difficulties.

      The review found that although the risk factors for suicide are understood, predicting suicide remains difficult.

      Another problematic area is that guidelines for prescribing psychiatric medication for children and youth are not accessible by all health professionals.

      The review also found that many families faced challenges or obstacles in accessing or receiving services.

      In particular, timely access to mental-health support is especially needed in non-urban areas.

      Yellow ribbons are often used for suicide awareness campaigns.
      ADragan/Getty Images

      The panel identified three main areas that can help to reduce child and youth suicides and improve public safety.

      The first area is adopting and integrating mental wellness strategies into socio-emotional learning for students, including emotional and stress coping skills.

      The second is to develop and distribute provincial youth mental-health guidelines.

      A third recommendation is the expansion of youth mental-health services, such as psychiatric services, to non-urban areas through outreach.

      The previous review panel of suicides from 2008 to 2012 had recommended improved service coordination, mental-health service access, and changes to B.C. Coroners policy and practice.

      According to the B.C. Coroners Service, about 20 children and youth in B.C. die by suicide each year.

      “Suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death among children and youth in B.C.,” Michael Egilson, who chaired the panel, stated in a news release. "Almost 70 percent of serious mental health issues emerge before the age of 25.”

      The full report, released today (August 15) and submitted to the Chief Coroner of B.C., is available online. The report is dedicated to the families, friends, and communities of those “who lost loved ones”. 

      If you or someone you know is experiencing depressive or suicidal thoughts, some options for resources include talking to a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, or counsellor. If in crisis, contact 911 or go to a hospital immediately. 

      The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. offers 24-hour phone and online distress services (as well as community education). The Crisis Line Association of B.C. (1-800-784-2433) provides 24-hour service for individuals across the province.

      Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) is a national service for children and teenagers. 

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook