Concern for the lack of support for those dealing with mental illness is growing in Pictou County.
A number of people joined Sue Marchand, Canadian Mental Health Association NS Communities Addressing Suicide Together Coalition program community capacity developer, at the New Glasgow Library recently to discuss re-building the local suicide coalition.
The CAST program was launched in 2006 and funded through the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. It works with the community to build and strengthen the capacity to address suicide at a local level.
“The idea is that communities know what they need to address suicide,” explained Marchand to the group.
Many of those present represented community organizations that deal with those suffering from mental illness.
When questioned about the mental health resources available in Pictou County, almost everyone present agreed they were not great.
One woman explained that now, someone suffering from a mental illness and requiring help must go to the Aberdeen Hospital emergency room and wait a minimum of six hours before they are seen by a doctor. Often, if they are not considered high risk of suicide, they are sent home with little to no follow up.
They also noted there is very little done in the way of prevention, intervention and post-vention when it comes to mental health and crisis management.
Marchand says she has hosted meetings in many communities across the province and many share the same issue: that they either have good resources and don’t know how to access them or cannot access them, she says. CMHA NS is working on hiring a full time co-ordinator for this area who would work on transportation issues.
Marchand noted one in five Canadians will live with mental illness.
“I have an issue with these statistics because they are based only on the number of people that visit a doctor. What about the ones that don’t?” she asked. “In my opinion, five in five people are impacted by mental illness whether it’s through others or their own poor mental health.”
Because of the perceived lack of access to mental health services, all of those present felt an active suicide coalition would be crucial to the area.
“Four thousand Canadians die of suicide each year; it is the second most common death in young people. Men in their 40s and 50s have the highest rate of suicide and suicide behaviours are seen in 160,000 to 400,000 Canadians.”
Marchand said there are certain risk factors associated with suicide, previous attempts, family history of suicidal behaviour, serious physical or mental illness, problems with drug and alcohol abuse, major loss, major life changes and social isolation among others.
“It is our (CMHA) belief that each and every community member plays a valuable role in suicide prevention.”
A suicide coalition did previously exist in Pictou County, the Pictou County Suicide Response Coalition, however, within the last year the group has had a lack of interest and issues with scheduling.
Those present also noted there is peer support coming as well.
Marchand says this will not be a completely new coalition, but rather, a revamping of the previous one.
“The coalition – Pictou County Communities Addressing Suicide Together Coalition or PC CAST Coalition – is made up of community members,” she explains. “The idea is that from this meeting the next step will be a community action session. The people that want to be a part of the coalition will come together and assess any gaps in accessing mental health services and put a plan into action.”
Marchand notes there are currently seven coalitions across the province with another two in the works, Pictou County being one of them, and they each look different based on each community’s needs.
She explains the coalition works because it’s a community seeing a need and figuring out how to deal with it as a community instead of waiting for government to come up with something which can often take longer.
“The goal is to develop an action plan for all that will address suicide.”
The hope is to have the group up and running in the near future as CMHA CAST program is starting a campaign Cast A Net on suicide prevention September 10 through November 19.
CMHA NS is also working on an app that will be released within the next year with information on what services are available and how to access them as well as a crisis option.