The change in fortune for the federal government is making Jeff Moat very nervous.
The CEO of Partners for Mental Health, Moat has been lobbying federal MPs to support a five-year $100 million project to pilot a youth suicide prevention program that has already shown impressive results in Europe. In Canada three times as many youth (15-24) die from suicide than by all forms of cancer.
Moat says MPs have been very receptive to the proposal, but a drop in government revenues from falling oil prices likely means the Partners will have to demonstrate significant public support to keep it in this year’s budget.
Normally delivered in February, Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver recently announced he was pushing the budget back to April or later to deal with the current economic instability brought on by falling energy prices. That has prompted fears that the Harper government is taking a chainsaw to the supports Canadians need in order to keep the Prime Minister’s promise of a balanced budget.
The proposal the Partners have brought to the federal government is based on one piloted by the Nuremburg Alliance in Germany that reduced youth suicide by a staggering 24 per cent. That initiative takes a whole community approach to suicide prevention, giving everyone a role from mental health and child welfare professionals to police, teachers and the media.
The Partners would like to test this approach in a number of diverse Canadian communities to see if we can adopt some of these best practices and adapt them to our own cultures.
Every day in Canada an average of two young people take their own lives. If we were able to achieve the same results as Germany, it would save the lives of the equivalent of four school buses of young people each year. For an initial minimal investment of $20 million per year over five years, the Harper government does risk its own reputation by placing the lives of Canada’s young people on the line. The economic arguments for these kinds of modest and targeted investment are overwhelming – in 2010 the Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that mental illness costs our economy $50 billion a year.
Partners for Mental Health have set up a website where Canadians can send their MP an actual physical letter of support along with a symbolic roll of “Lifesavers” candy. So far 6,500 Canadians have done so – but it is not enough.
If you think saving the lives of four busloads of young people every year are worth a few minutes of your time, please visit a special website Partners for Mental Health have set up at rightbyyou.ca. Click on the “Tell the Government” button at the bottom of the “Action” box. By filling in your postal code, your paper letter will be sent to your MP along with a roll of Lifesavers. There is also an option to CC Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Finance Minister Joe Oliver.
You can use the Partners template letter, but it is far more effective if you can add your own words.
Partners for Mental Health also urge you to make an appointment to see your local MP and tell them in person that this is a priority.
We have the tools to save the lives of Canadian youth at risk. Under the present circumstances it will take all of us to make sure that happens.