Tag Archives: suicide

Artificial Intelligence Pilot Project to look for Suicide Warning Signs across Canada

Pilot will examine all parts of country including Indigenous communities

An Ottawa-based firm has been tapped by the federal government for a three-month pilot project designed to look for warning signs for suicide before tragedy strikes.

Advanced Symbolics Inc., is an artificial intelligence service company set to examine suicide hot spots across the country to better understand precursors to suicide.

The pilot, expected to start by the beginning of February, will examine all parts of the country including Indigenous communities, said chief scientist Kenton White, though he stressed the goal is not to focus on any particular group.

“What we would like to try and understand is what are the signals … that would allow us to forecast where the next hot spots are so that we can help the government of Canada to provide the resources that are … going to be needed to help prevent suicide before the tragedies happen,” White said.

There were a number of high profile “hot spots” in 2017, White added, noting northern communities and places like Cape Breton were hit particularly hard by spikes in suicide.

Advanced Symbolics’ pilot will not identify individuals, White added, saying safeguards are in place to ensure individuals can’t be identified within samples.

“This is not Minority Report and we are not identifying individuals who … have risk of self harm,” he said.

“We are not knocking on doors or contacting individuals. We have nothing that is personally identifiable about any individuals in this study.”

Instead, the company turns to a technique to create randomized, controlled samples of social media users in all regions.

The project will only use anonymous data already in the public domain for surveillance purposes, according to the Public Works contract award document posted online.

White, also an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa, said Tuesday his biggest hope is the research can demonstrate a positive application for artificial intelligence.

“So many times in AI research we hear the stories about AI is going to take jobs … Big Brother is spying on us,” he said.

“If you can show that (suicide) rates have gone down because we have deployed this sort of study, that would be most gratifying.”

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a Dalhousie University psychiatry professor who examined a spate of Cape Breton teen suicides in 2017, said this summer that authorities need to look beyond bullying in their response to tragedies, adding there is a tendency to assume it causes “every single problem” young people have and that it is “just not true.”

The Canadian Press

[SOURCE]

‘Do Something Now!’: Indigenous Activists Plead for Action in Youth Suicide Crisis


A group that has been camped out at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices for two weeks marched down Yonge St. Friday to demand government action on northern Ontario’s suicide crisis.

Staff | Toronto Star

Beneath Friday’s pouring rain and dark skies, a group of Indigenous women continue the fight against northern Ontario’s suicide crisis outside the offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on St. Clair Ave.

They’ve been at it for more than two weeks. Geoffey Daybutch, who was asked to join the women outside INAC three days earlier to serve as a male voice from the First Nations community, stands guard as a man brushes past him with groceries and tells him to get off the sidewalk.

For Daybutch, this crisis hits close to home.

“The stories that are coming out from the suicide crisis is that some of the older children from the families are making their choice to commit suicide so that the younger kids will have enough food to eat,” he says, struggling to get the words out.

Daybutch is in Toronto because he too made that choice.

“This is a personal thing that I haven’t told anybody here: that’s why I left my home,” he says, tears in his eyes and barely able to talk.

“When we had my youngest brother, I knew we were struggling so I told my family I’ll come down to the city, I’ll leave so that there’s enough food for everyone. I never came up with the choice to off myself. I made the choice to come down south and make a difference and here I am.”

On Friday night, a few dozen activists marched their cause up Yonge St. to the office of Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, in a vigil for the nearly 300 under-20 Indigenous youth who’ve taken their lives in Northern Ontario since 1986.

Once the march began, and two lanes of traffic were blocked, lineups of cars waited patiently while others blared their horns in anger as drum rolls sounded out and flags and signs were carried north on Yonge St.

This is the second time in a year the activists have come to INAC to demand the federal government follow through on an election promise made to address a state of emergency declared last April by the northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

The state of emergency came after 100 people, including children, tried to kill themselves in the community of only 2,000.

On July 24, Indigenous leaders met with the federal government in Ottawa. Another meeting was arranged for September.

Out of the July meeting came four already-promised mental health workers for the northern community of Wapekeka and 20 more for Pikangikum, which is now the suicide capital of the world after five youth suicides last month, according to the vigil’s organizers.

“They have reneged and they’re going to have a meeting in September when they’re finished their holidays and vacation time,” says organizer Sigrid Kneve, two days after someone woke her up in the middle of the night to inform her that another Indigenous youth had taken her life.

This year alone, there have been more than 20 suicides in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which is located in northern Ontario and represents 49 First Nations communities.

“Since that meeting when they decided to have the meeting in September, another young person has killed themselves,” adds Kneve. “We want them to do something now! We don’t understand how it’s out of sight and out of mind.”

Outside their sidewalk tent, Toronto police frequently visit, stopping to check in and make sure they’re OK.

Bennett, too, often meets with them. But they say they are still awaiting action.

“How many young people are going to commit suicide from now until September?” asks Kneve.

For now, Daybutch waits on a sidewalk he has claimed as his own until his friends and family get the support he feels they deserve.

This story originally published Here.


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Ontario First Nation ‘In Shock’ After Two More Young People Take Their Own Lives

A picture taken in Pikangikum on March 30, 2016 shows several homes in the community of approximately 3,000 residents.

  • Staff | The Globe and Mail, July 18, 2017

Two young girls took their own lives in Pikangikum this weekend, bringing to four the number of adolescents who killed themselves on the remote Ontario fly-in reserve in the past two weeks – another spate of such deaths in a community that has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

The girls who died this past weekend were in their mid-teens.

Two weeks ago, a 12-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl died by suicide. One of the girls who died on the weekend was a sister of the girl who died by suicide earlier this month.

The 49 communities within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in Northwestern Ontario have grappled with the problem for decades. But halfway through this year, with the publicly known toll surpassing 20, there have already been more suicides in NAN territory than there were in any of the previous five years. More than half of the dead are between the ages of 10 and 15.

“We’re making every effort to prevent another life from being taken,” Dean Owen, the chief of Pikangikum, said on Monday as the First Nation of about 2,800 people waited for the girls’ bodies to be returned to their families following autopsies.

“The community is still very much in shock,” Mr. Owen said. But, he said, he and the other community leaders are at a loss for what they can do about the crisis.

As for the federal government, which funds First Nations’ health care, Mr. Owen said: “I would like to say, get a professional to come in and find out what’s going on in the minds of these young people.”

Pikangikum is no stranger to suicide epidemics. In 2000, after many deaths throughout the 1990s, one British sociologist said it likely had the highest suicide rate in the world. Between 2006 and 2008, 16 of its young people took their own lives. There was another string of deaths in 2011.

Suicide happens with alarming frequency through the reserves of Northwestern Ontario, but this year has been particularly difficult. The Wapekeka First Nation alone, with a population of about 400, has lost three 12-year-old girls. On Saturday, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation buried a youth who killed himself in Thunder Bay.

Anna Betty Achneepineskum, the deputy grand chief of NAN, said she has been trying to look at the lives of the young people who have killed themselves in her communities recently to determine if there are commonalities that can be addressed. “But we’re always responding to crises, and all of the resources that we have are all committed to that part of it, so we really don’t have the resources to develop some proactive and prevention measures,” Ms. Achneepineskum said.

When a child takes their life in a NAN First Nation, the community makes an effort to identify other children who are at risk and to take care of their immediate needs. That often means sending them to a city such as Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout or Ottawa for counselling. But that is a “very quick, Band-Aid solution” and there is little ability to do long-term followup because the resources are so stretched, Ms. Achneepineskum said. “We’re talking about youth here. We’re talking about youth that continue to die.”

Health Canada has sent additional supports to the affected communities and to the region at large, and is bolstering mental-health teams that serve NAN reserves. Jane Philpott, the federal Health Minister, said the suicides are an “unspeakable tragedy” and her department and others are working on the issue on an urgent daily basis.

“There is no question that this has to be addressed on a wide range of levels,” Dr. Philpott said. “We absolutely have to get to the root causes of why communities have lost hope and why there is this cycle of despair and continued [decisions by] people to act on their suicidal thoughts and not be able to see hope for their future.”

In fact, many of the root causes of the suicides are known, such as poverty, poor education, substance abuse and the loss of culture, something Dr. Philpott acknowledges.

“It is really a result of what we have tolerated as Canadians for generations now of discrimination, including things like, of course, residential schools, that have led to cycles of domestic violence that have taken root on some communities,” she said. “We need to acknowledge that we have done wrong by the First Peoples of Canada and we need to start to address that.”

[SOURCE]

Ottawa Must Act to Address Indigenous Suicide in Canada: Committee

MaryAnn Mihychuk, chair of the House of Commons standing committee on Indigenous and Northern affairs, speaks in Ottawa on Monday regarding the committee’s report on Indigenous suicide. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

  • Staff| The Globe and Mail, Jun. 19, 2017

A long history of misguided federal policies has fuelled repeated suicide crises in Canada’s Indigenous communities and urgent government action is needed to address the root causes, which include inadequate health care, housing, infrastructure and economic development, says a unanimous report by politicians of all stripes.

The Indigenous Affairs committee, which spent more than a year studying the problem of suicide among Canada’s first peoples and released its report on Monday, found that the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, forced relocations of communities and racism on the part of health-care workers, teachers and social-service agents all contributed to the problem.

The committee’s 28 broad-ranging recommendations include calls for the federal government to dramatically overhaul the delivery of child welfare, and to fully implement what is known as Jordan’s Principle, which says native children should receive the same quality of health care as is provided to other children in Canada.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found last year that the discriminatory policies of the Indigenous Affairs department have led to chronic underfunding of welfare on reserves and have allowed jurisdictional issues to interfere with the provision of adequate health services, including mental-health services.

“We need to send a message to Indigenous Canadians and especially to young Indigenous people that their lives have value, and to hold on to hope,” said committee chair MaryAnn Mihychuk, a Liberal MP and a former cabinet minister in the Trudeau government.

“We recognize,” Ms. Mihychuk said, “that they are losing hope because they have difficult lives and are suffering from intergenerational trauma as the result of decades of unjust policies, and that we must act together.”

A study released last year by the First Nations Information Governance Centre found that between 2008 and 2010, 22 per cent of adult First Nations people in Canada contemplated suicide. That compared with 9 per cent of the general population. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death for First Nations people under the age of 45. And the suicide rate for First Nations male youth is five times the national average.

Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, who is a member of the committee, told reporters that the testimony given by the 100 witnesses was some of the most disturbing she has heard as an MP. “As a committee, we thought to do justice to all those very tragic stories,” she said. “I only wish that we had some quick easy fixes but, clearly, there aren’t quick easy fixes.”

Last week, 12-year-old Jenera Roundsky of the Wapekeka First Nation in northwestern Ontario texted “goodbye” to a friend then took her own life at the community’s outdoor hockey rink. She had been in the care of social services since two other girls from the same community killed themselves in January. Her father died by suicide in 2011.

The wide scope of the committee’s recommendations reflects the complexity of mental-health issues and the fact that there is no single solution to the high rate of suicide in Indigenous communities, Ms. Mihychuk said.

Among other things, the report calls for more investment in housing, better access to education including the establishment of a university in the North, more employment opportunities, enhanced suicide strategies and improved mental-health services in Indigenous communities. In most cases, it recommends that government provides funding to allow the Indigenous communities to meet their own needs and find their own solutions.

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society who launched the CHRT case against the government, said the tribunal noted in January that First Nations youth in Ontario are denied mental-health services that are provided to all other children.

“In worldwide research, we know that inequity is linked to a much higher risk for suicide in two ways,” Dr. Blackstock said. “One is that it creates a lot of hardship for youth so they are more likely to have suicidal ideation and die of suicide. And the second thing is that, for those kids who are feeling suicidal ideation, there’s inequitable services to meet that need.”

[SOURCE]

6th Girl Has Taken Her Own Life In Northern Saskatchewan In Less Than A Month

Stanley Mission, Sask. is one of a few communities mourning the loss of children who have recently taken their own lives. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Stanley Mission, Sask. is one of a few communities mourning the loss of children who have recently taken their own lives. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

‘They’re Not Just Statistics. Our Little Girls Are Dying’: FSIN Vice-Chief

By Devin Heroux, CBC News Posted: Oct 31, 2016

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations continues to face “a state of crisis” after a sixth girl became the most recent suicide in northern Saskatchewan in less than a month.

“This is heartbreaking and shocking,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan. “Our youth ought to be planning their future and celebrating their successes; instead, there’s despair and hoplessness.”

On Sunday, a 13-year-old girl from La Ronge, Sask., took her own life.

Earlier in October, three girls aged 12 to 14 from Stanley Mission, Sask., and La Ronge also killed themselves in the span of four days.

A week later, a 10-year-old girl in Deschambault Lake, Sask., took her own life.

Then last Friday, a 13-year-old girl killed herself on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“They’re not just statistics,” said Jonathan. “Our little girls are dying. It isn’t about this being No. 6.”

Jonathan said she had been talking to a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across the country Monday. Many expressed shock and sadness over this spate of suicides, she said.

FSIN vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan and her daughter. Jonathan says as a mother of three girls she's horrified at what's taking place in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kimberly Jonathan)

FSIN vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan and her daughter. Jonathan says as a mother of three girls she’s horrified at what’s taking place in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kimberly Jonathan)

The heartache, though, is mixed with frustration.

“It’s more than the pit-of-my-stomach anger,” she said. “The pit-of-my-soul pain. As a life-giver of three Indigenous girls, I just cannot fathom having to write another proposal for help.”

Jonathan said she doesn’t know what more to do at this point. She said she’s tired of Indigenous people being treated like beggars, having to plead their case for help in the midst of a crisis. She’s once again calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit northern Saskatchewan and provide the necessary support.

“Condolences: Thank you for them,” said Jonathan. “We need action. We need to see resources that our leadership have been asking for years.”

More than anything, Jonathan is stressing the importance of this being a provincial and national issue. She is calling on people everywhere to be a part of action that makes elected officials step up.

“We don’t want photo [opportunities], we don’t want pretty speeches,” she said. “Pretty speeches are not going to save our children.”

Education director responds

Northern Lights School Division education director Ken Ladouceur said teachers and students in these affected communities are being given all the support they need right now.

“Words escape you,” he said. “Our hearts are breaking for the parents, families and Indigenous people everywhere.”

This school division is not new to tragedy. Most recently, Ladouceur helped guide staff and students through the school shooting in La Loche.

Now, Ladouceur is trying to be a leader in the face of yet another tragedy.

People came together in La Ronge, Sask. for a candlelight vigil in memory of three young girls. (Don Somers/CBC)

People came together in La Ronge, Sask. for a candlelight vigil in memory of three young girls. (Don Somers/CBC)

“We are no stranger to suicide within our schools and across our Indigenous populations in the north,” he said. “It is something we are always aware of and trying to support as much as we can.”

Ladouceur knows more work can be done, though.

“Prevention programs are in all of our schools,” he said. “The age of these students tells us we can’t put enough interventions and support in for these youth.”

Staff and administration are working with local health districts to provide all the help they can. Ladouceur said he knows how difficult this is on the teachers right now. “The students are as close to them as their own family.”

Leaders speak out

“Research and experience shows that the connection between youth suicide and the autonomy of Indigenous communities, working on reconciliation and empowering those communities is a large part of that solution,” said Buckley Belanger, MLA for Athabasca.

Belanger also took issue with comments made earlier in the year by health minister Jim Reiter — when he was the minister responsible for First Nations, Métis and northern affairs — and said the government would look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action that made sense and could be done quickly.

Belanger mentioned the years of work which went into research, interviews and consultations before the final report was released.

“They were not done so provincial ministers could decide what made sense to them,” Belanger said. “If this government really isn’t willing to listen, if they aren’t willing to work with the Indigenous communities, if they are only going to do what is quick and easy for them, then how does this government expect anything to change?”

NDP Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon said the supports offered to northern communities after the first three youths took their own lives haven’t been enough. He mentioned long-standing inequities and inadequacies in the north.

“We’ve got a sixth suicide,” he said. “What we’re doing just isn’t working. The supports just haven’t been there.”

Wotherspoon said long-term commitments need to be made to address issues such as addictions and housing.

“We’ve got a real shortfall to make up for in the long-term.”

He said it takes resources to bolster basic things such as evening programs, and to continue to working with northern leadership, providing the sources to help healing.

“This is unspeakably tragic,” said Premier Brad Wall.

Wall said suicide prevention strategies have been developing in collaboration with school divisions and health regions.

“Obviously we need to continue to do more,” he said.

Wall said the government is looking at all options to address the issue, noting the pattern of all six lives lost being young girls.

“Everything’s on the table. It’s an all-of-the-above approach we need to take for this because we just can’t afford to lose any young girls, or any young people period,” he said.

MP Georgina Jolibois called on the federal government to address the immediate needs of Indigenous mental health in northern communities.

“The government needs to end the Band-Aid strategy and commit to a culturally appropriate long-term approach to mental wellness,” Jolibois said during Monday’s question period in the House of Commons. “How much louder do our kids need to be?”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/northern-sask-suicide-1.3830223