Youth advocates are calling for a national suicide prevention plan, saying that Canada needs to do more for its young people.

At a national conference, held Tuesday in Winnipeg, advocates from coast to coast discussed the sobering reality of youth suicide in Canada, and how the country can change it.

“The human cost of losing so many young people to suicide is an issue of concern for this council, as it is for all Canadians,” said Del Graff, president of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates.

The results of research from advocates show that an alarming number of Canadian youth are dying by suicide, particularly in First Nations communities. The group is calling on all levels of government to take action.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadians between the ages of 10-24, according to the new paper released by the council. And the suicide rate among Indigenous youth in First Nations communities is seven times higher than the national average, advocates say.

For Inuit youth, it’s 11 times higher -- which is among the highest suicide rates in the world.

Canada is the only G7 country without a national suicide prevention strategy, according to advocates.

“There is no national strategy, and a national strategy can save lives,” said Jackie Lake, a Newfoundland and Labrador child and youth advocate.

This summer, a state of emergency was declared in a Northern Manitoban community, God’s Lake First Nation, after officials said there were 22 suicide attempts and four deaths.

“There have been four young people who have taken their own lives this summer,” said God’s Lake Chief Gilbert Andrews in a press release in August. “This is a crisis that our health staff are dealing with every day and we need help immediately.”

In 2016, six youth in Northern Saskatchewan died by suicide in a matter of weeks.

Ariana Roberts was only 12 years old. She was buried with a tiara on her head; her mother, Sally Ratt, used to call her princess.

Ratt said there “needs to be more mental health help.”

She has been supporting a petition for Saskatchewan legislators to create a suicide prevention strategy, and is glad there is a call for a national one as well.

“I will spread awareness about suicide,” she said. “It needs to be talked about, not hidden.”

It is difficult to get accurate national data about suicide in Canada, says Ainsley Krone, deputy Manitoba advocate, as information on youth suicide is collected in various ways across the country. Better resources and data collection is important, according to advocates.

Although programs to help Indigenous youth exist, and different jurisdictions are working on plans to tackle suicide, advocates say it’s time the federal government consolidated these efforts and made a prevention plan that could be implemented nationally.


With files from the Canadian Press