Indigenous communities continue to suffer despite lower suicide rates

Saskatchewan Legislature as seen from near the location of Tristen Durocher’s summer 2020 fast. Premier Scott Moe has faced criticism for a recent Bell Let’s Talk tweet. Photo by Melissa Bezan

The year 2020 may go down in history as one of the hardest on record, but because of a rare psychological reason, suicide rates were lower in Saskatchewan.

According to the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service, 134 people committed suicide in Saskatchewan in 2020, the lowest number since 2008. In comparison, 206 people committed suicide in 2019 and 241 in 2018.

Rebecca Rackow, the Director of Advocacy, Research, and Public Policy Development at CMHA-SK (Canadian Mental Health Association), said this was because of a phenomenon called the “Echo Pandemic.”

“The Echo Pandemic suggests that the mental health lapses in wellness echo the curve of outbreak for COVID,” Rackow said. “The wellness lapses are behind the curve.

“That stress level is actually initially healthy, to get a person to respond to a crisis. Once that is responded to and there are unknowns, we see a rise in stress levels that are less healthy.”

Even though suicide rates are lower for the province, they remain disproportionately high for Indigenous people. Rackow says this is because of a lack of resources for Indigenous people.

“Mental health and wellness is determined much like all health,” Rackow said. “There’s social determinates for health, and so you will see a disproportionate amount of mental health struggles in Indigenous folks strictly because of those social determinates.”

Jamin Mike, an Indigenous freelance journalist, knew three suicide victims in Saskatchewan; he said it’s a sad reality.

“People who completed suicide are missed by their families,” Mike said. “It’s traumatizing over and over again.

“These are kids doing this to themselves. I knew a kid who completed suicide that I met a few times, and it’s a horribly sad sight to see his family in shambles and depressed because of it.”

Mike said the Saskatchewan government hasn’t done anything they need to in order to help Indigenous communities and won’t be able to do anything until they recognize the impacts of colonialism.

“Until the government acknowledges that and creates legislation around its colonial impacts, it will never truly help,” he said.

“So many residents in Saskatchewan think its not up to the government to do something, but it must address the fact it uses Indigenous lands to fund the economy we all live in – lands that were violently taken from Indigenous peoples.”

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Premier Scott Moe posted a video on Twitter saying the government is committed to providing mental health services across Saskatchewan. This caused an outpouring of rage on the social media platform, with many people saying his comments were tone deaf after he refused to speak to Tristen Durocher. Durocher fasted for 44 days in the summer of 2020 after 44 Sask Party MLA’s voted against a suicide prevention bill, as mentioned in a previous story; http://ink.urjschool.ca/suicide-issues-in-indigenous-communities-pushed-aside-after-sask-party-majority-win/

“The Sask Party voted down a suicide prevention strategy, then tried to get the cops to drag Indigenous mental health advocates out of Wascana Park,” said a Twitter user in a tweet that was representative of numerous responses. “They. Do. Not. Care.”

Mike said the government did nothing to help Durocher with his efforts in the summer and the Bell Let’s Talk video and posts were out of touch.

“The fact he is challenging the judge for visiting Tristen after his decision, and gaslighting his cause, is sick,” Mike said. “Moe refuses to see Indigenous realities and actively chooses to stay in a small-minded, Western-centric view that Indigenous mental health in the North doesn’t matter. It proves he doesn’t do his research.”

There are mental health resources in Saskatchewan, including the Mobile Crisis Services and a wellness support line through the CMHA website.

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