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Suicide Prevention

‘Alarming’ suicide rates in northern Ontario, Sudbury health unit says

October 5, 2023
Teenager sitting on stairs with head in hands, backpack on ground next to her.
Northern Ontario has higher rates of suicide than communities in the southern part of the province, Sudbury’s health unit says. (Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

NationTalk: CBC News: The public health unit in Sudbury reveals the rate of suicide in the Sudbury area is higher than the Ontario average.

According to Public Health Sudbury and Districts, men are more likely to die by suicide than women, and the highest rate of suicide was among people 20 to 44 years old. For Sudbury-Manitoulin, from 2018 to 2022, there were 17.4 deaths per 100,000 population per year. Regionally, that number is 18.9.

The rate for Ontario overall is 11.4 deaths per 100,000 per year.

Erin Ballantyne, public health nurse on the mental health and substance use team, said there are likely several reasons suicide rates in northern communities are “alarmingly” higher than their southern counterparts. 

Social isolation and inhabiting a large, sparse geographical area can create a challenge for people to access mental health services, social housing and substance use supports.

“We also have an increase in health inequities in northern Ontario for specific groups such as our LGBTQ+ community, Indigenous Peoples and newcomers,” Ballantyne said.  “And because of those increased health inequities, those groups can also have an increased risk of poor mental health outcomes and mental health challenges and an increased risk of death by suicide.”

Youth also have longer wait times before accessing services, which can compound the problem, Ballantyne said. “The statistics represent people. They represent lives lost,” she said.

“So while we see these numbers and we recognize that they’re big, I also think we have to think about the lives or the human aspect behind it.”

Compassion, conversation keys to reducing rates

Mark Fraser, executive director of Compass and the co-chair of the Suicide Safer Network in Sudbury, said collaboration between all stakeholders is needed to help bring those numbers down. “It takes all of us,” Fraser said. “Whether you’re a parent, a caregiver, a school teacher, a clinician, a doctor, a lawyer, a coach, it takes each and every one of us to reduce the suicide rates in the north.” 

The Suicide Safer network aims to bring those groups together, helping those at risk to get the help they need. “Currently our work falls under three big areas,” Fraser said. “Prevention, intervention and post-vention.”

“In the Sudbury area, there is a strong need for post-vention services, meaning when there’s a death by suicide in our community, it causes ripple effect across our community and post-vention services are aimed at addressing that ripple effect.”

People can also share their own experiences of suicide — whether personal struggles or living with someone who has attempted it — which can help alleviate some of the stigma around the conversation.

“We can reach in and help give someone support and hope by showing you care,” Fraser said.

“The stigma is a major barrier to help, and changing the narrative around suicide through the promotion of hope can create a more compassionate community where those in need feel more comfortable and coming forward.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help: