Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the extraordinary member of Parliament for Brandon—Souris.
Suicide is a tragic event that affects far too many Canadian families. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Each year, several thousand Canadians lose their lives to suicide. The World Health Organization estimates that in Canada the rate of suicide is 15 for every 100,000 people. While suicide rates vary by age, gender and ethnicity in Canada, males appear to be more at risk.
Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24, according to the Canadian Psychiatric Association.
Certainly, some of the tragedies in the National Hockey League this summer of some of its alumni highlighted how prevalent this problem is, how prevalent this challenge is.
If there is one silver lining out of these enormous tragedies, it is that it will raise awareness to the critical need to look at mental health.
Our health minister , who is from the north, understands first-hand how very real and tragic this issue is in both first nation and Inuit communities. The suicide rate among first nation youth is approximately five to seven times higher in Canada than for non-aboriginal youth. In Inuit regions, suicide is 11 times the Canadian rate.
While there are many contributing factors to suicide, mental illness is a major one. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, nearly six million, or one in five Canadians, are likely to experience a mental illness over the course of their lifetime. This is why our government has taken some concrete steps to improve the mental health and well-being of Canadians. We take mental health issues seriously. We would like to recognize two important events related to mental illness that will take place this month. In Canada, this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. October 10 is World Mental Health Day. These events provide opportunities to raise awareness of mental illness and the importance of good mental health.
Studies indicate that more than 90% of suicide victims suffer from a mental illness or substance abuse problem. In addition, many of the same risk and protective factors that have an impact on mental illness can influence the risk of suicide. A recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that mental illness is associated with more lost work days than any other chronic condition, costing the Canadian economy $51 billion annually in lost productivity.
Mental health and well-being contribute to our quality of life. Good mental health is associated with better physical health outcomes, improved educational attainment, increased economic participation, and rich social relationships. Recognizing the importance that good mental health plays on our everyday lives, in 2007, this government created the Mental Health Commission of Canada as an independent, arm's-length organization. It provides a national focal point for mental illness. This government has invested $130 million in the commission over 10 years to advance work on mental health issues.
The commission is mandated to lead the development of Canada's first ever national mental health strategy. When released in 2012, the strategy would provide a way for the people of Canada, the mental health community, and the jurisdictions, to work together to achieve better mental health.
The commission's release, in 2009, of “Toward Recovery and Well Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada” marked the completion of the first phase in developing the strategy. It set out a vision containing broad goals for transforming mental health systems in Canada. It has become an important reference point for mental health policy and practice across the country.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada is now finalizing the first ever mental health strategy that would translate the vision and goals of this framework into a strategic plan. Elements of suicide prevention are expected to be contained in the strategy. The strategy has been informed by the voices of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations with a wide diversity of points of view and experience. This strategy is expected to make a significant contribution to the mental health community.
Another important initiative the Mental Health Commission of Canada has been mandated to address is the stigma associated with mental health issues. Stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help. Many Canadians living with a mental illness say the stigma they face is often worse than the mental illness itself. Mental illness affects people of all ages, from all walks of life. It can take on many forms, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has launched the largest systematic effort to reduce the stigma of mental health in Canadian history, known as Opening Minds. Its goal is to change the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians toward people living with mental health problems. Through this initiative the commission is working with partners across Canada to identify and evaluate existing anti-stigma programs. Efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness are currently focused at health care providers, the media, the workforce, along with children and youth. Opening Minds is serving as a catalyst in mobilizing actions of others to make a real difference in the area of anti-stigma programs.
To ensure that all the information on mental illness is accessible to the public and those in the mental health field, the commission is establishing a knowledge exchange centre. This initiative is creating new ways for Canadians to access information, share knowledge, and exchange ideas about mental health. All Canadians will have access to knowledge, ideas, and best practices related to mental illness. Furthermore, this will enhance the capacity for knowledge exchange throughout the Canadian mental health system.
The government has also taken further action to address the issue of mental health among the homeless. Mental illness and homelessness are increasingly related and there is a need for more research in this area.
Just last week in Barrie I was speaking to a nurse in the community, Nicole Black. She works at the David Busby Street Centre in Barrie. She was telling me how prevalent it is and the challenge that is faced when trying to assist with the battle to combat homelessness. It is great that the government recognizes the importance to work in this area. This is why in 2008 the government provided $110 million over five years to the Mental Health Commission of Canada to investigate mental illness and homelessness. This includes the At Home/Chez Soi initiative, which is the largest research project of its kind in the world.
The project is happening now in five Canadian cities: Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Moncton. This research project is centred on the housing first model. This means that once a person is given a place to live, the person can better concentrate on personal issues. The innovative approach of this project has the potential to make Canada a world leader in providing services to people who are homeless and living with a mental illness.
By creating and supporting the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the government has recognized the link between suicide and mental illness and has demonstrated its commitment to help address this serious issue.
In Barrie, when I toured the Canadian Mental Health Association offices on Bradford Street and the mental health area of the Royal Victoria Hospital, where there are some of the best doctors in the region who assist with mental health issues, I certainly heard loud and clear that this is a growing concern for Canadians and that we need to do what we can to contribute as a federal government. I am so proud that our federal government, under the leadership of our finance minister, has made this a priority.
It is my pleasure to be in the House today to address this very important topic.