Coroner probes B.C. youth suicides

Despite the media and political focus on bullying, mental illness is a much bigger source of youth suicides in B.C.

Pink shirt anti-bullying day has been a tradition for B.C. politicians for years. The latest study of teen suicides confirms that mental illness is a much larger problem than bullying.

VICTORIA – Despite the media and political focus on bullying, an analysis of recent youth suicides in B.C. has found that bullying was a factor in only one in four cases.

The B.C. Coroners Service released the report of a death review panel Thursday, looking at 91 youth suicides between 2008 and 2012. It recommends better coordination between schools, hospitals and mental health services to identify teens at risk of suicide, and follow-up after suicides to determine drug use, sexual orientation and other possible risk factors.

More than 60 per cent of young people studied had previous or current contact with the mental health system, the largest common factor. But 27 per cent of the cases were teens who took their lives without any previous warning signs identified by family, school or people in the community.

Almost half of the teens in the study were 17 and 18, and two out of three successful suicides were boys. Of the 91 cases, 18 were aboriginal, a rate about twice as high as the general population.

Michael Egilson, who chaired the B.C. Coroners Service Child Death Review Panel, said the next step is to meet with young people to get their input into how best to reach vulnerable teens before they harm themselves.

NDP children and family development critic Carole James said more awareness and study of the problem is helpful, but the recommendations have been made in other studies by coroners and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s independent children’s advocate.

James said parents often describe a “revolving door” where teens with mental illness go to emergency, get medication and are told to return to the hospital or call police if they have another crisis.

Meanwhile they go on a waiting list for counselling or residential treatment, which can take several months.

James said when she questioned Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux in budget debates this summer, she was told there are no more resources in the current budget to expand youth mental health services.

 

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