The ongoing mental health crisis in the Niagara region can no longer be ignored. Beginning in the fall of 2018, a spike in suicides has occurred in the area, with several instances of multiple suicides in the same week.
When proposing ways to solve the ongoing mental health crisis in Niagara, the Region’s acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji stated that the region has typically averaged around 44.4 suicides per year and that the last couple of years have seen a sharp increase.
In recent months, these deaths have notably taken place at the Burgoyne Bridge in St. Catharines.
Although tainted by tragedy, the once pristine arches of the Burgoyne Bridge are now decorated by countless messages of love and support from St. Catharines locals, hopeful to prevent more untimely deaths in the area. Signs for 24-hour crisis lines are posted on both ends of the bridge as a method of suicide prevention. This was a sign of hope, a promise that as a community, St. Catharines can find a way to put an end to this crisis. In the months that have passed since the initial spike of suicides, possibilities for suicide prevention in the area have ebbed and flowed.
Burgoyne has always lacked any suicide prevention measures. After two deaths were reported in six days in October of 2018, the possibility of installing suicide prevention netting was raised. This has been a colossal help in preventing suicides from occurring in other places, such as the infamous Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, where rates of jumping decreased from nine per year to only one in a total of 11 years.
In January, it was proposed that a $4 million suicide prevention barrier be installed at the Burgoyne Bridge. In the following months, the installation of the barriers has been delayed.
While further assistance for mental health in Niagara is a plan meant to work in tandem with the plan for anti-suicide barriers, some have raised the questions whether the potential $4 million might as well be spent all on mental health services.
This is the clear crisis underlying the suicide deaths in general, which have been reported to spawn as a result of prior local suicides inspiring them. Otherwise, those suffering from mental health issues who go on to commit suicide are suffering in silence.
The issue is not exclusive to the Niagara region, but has become more prominent in recent months. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Canada, with an average of 10 people committing suicide every day. This does not account for the overall number of attempts made.
For children to young adults — between 10 — 29 years of age — suicide is the second leading cause of death.
Over 90 per cent of these individuals were living with a mental health issue or illness.
There is an obvious overarching issue regarding youth and young adults and their struggles with mental health problems. The most recent study done by the National College Health Assessment done in 2016 stated that, for postsecondary students in particular, there has been an extreme increase in rates of mental illness and thoughts of suicide as well as actual suicide attempts. 46 per cent of students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function; 65 per cent reported feelings of overwhelming anxiety.
More than ever before, postsecondary students are needing to seek help for mental health problems. It is to the point where universities have a constant need to keep expanding their mental health programs or point students in the direction of outside help for their struggles. We cannot forget the many students who do not seek help and suffer quietly either.
As the decade that has seen this drastic spike in mental health problems comes to a close, harder work must be done to ensure that reports of poor mental health and suicide can decline. With rates of illness and suicide increasing year after year, it is especially necessary within our schools.