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After 11 Suicide Attempts In Just One Day, Canadian Community Declares State of Emergency

A young Aboriginal girl wears traditional clothing during an event by Manito Abhee celebrating National Aboriginal Day in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2011. CREDIT: AP PHOTO, KEVIN FRAYER
A young Aboriginal girl wears traditional clothing during an event by Manito Abhee celebrating National Aboriginal Day in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2011. CREDIT: AP PHOTO, KEVIN FRAYER

On Saturday evening, 11 members of a remote Canadian indigenous community attempted to take their own lives. This wasn’t a premeditated plan or group pact — officials say there was no single cause of these individual incidents. Rather, this has just become the reality of those living in Attawapiskat First Nation, an isolated native community plagued with neglected mental health issues.

Since September, the small community of 2,000 has seen 101 attempted suicides. That’s around 5 percent of the population. But this weekend’s unprecedented spike pushed the Attawapiskat council to officially declare a local state of emergency.

I have relatives that have attempted to take their own lives…cousins, friends.

“I’m asking friends, government, that we need help in our community,” said Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh in an interview with CBC. “I have relatives that have attempted to take their own lives…cousins, friends,” he added.

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This crisis has easily overwhelmed the community’s four mental health care workers, prompting the council to ask for government assistance for months. But it took this weekend’s declaration to finally attract outside help.

Canadian health ministers announced Sunday they would immediately fly in a crisis team of mental health and social workers to the area. Until then, Shisheesh said, the council has hired security guards to monitor all at-risk patients in the local hospital.

Many First Nations advocates are upset with the government’s slow response to this longtime issue. Charlie Angus, the region’s parliamentary critic of indigenous affairs, called the crisis a “rolling nightmare.”

“When a young person tries to commit suicide in any suburban school, they send in the resources, they send in the emergency team. There’s a standard protocol for response,” he told CBC. “The northern communities are left on their own,” he said. “We don’t have the mental health service dollars. We don’t have the resources.”

Angus said that he’s lost count of the communities that have declared suicide-based emergencies since he took office. Suicide has quickly become the leading cause of death for First Nations people under the age of 44.

There’s no sole reason for this sobering statistic.

Drug abuse, overcrowded homes, bullying, and untreated mental health conditions, like depression, all contribute to the growing suicide rate, said Shisheesh. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/06/25/3673724/native-american-youth-suicide/Of course, this fatal mental health crisis is not unique to Canadian’s indigenous populations. Alaska Native men between the ages of 15–24 have thehighest rate of suicide among any demographic in the United States, at around 34 suicide-caused deaths per 100,000 people. In some Native American communities, the youth suicide rate is ten times the national average. International data shows the same pattern: Australian aboriginals have the highest suicide rate in the world.

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The weight of this crisis strains those working the hardest to cure it. On Tuesday morning, Shisheesh posted an update on Twitter: “Trying to be positive here, but getting emotional drain…need your prayers here.”