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Bridging The Gap

Bridging The Gap

This article discusses suicide, please be aware of any triggers this could cause.

1:3 suicide mortalities are found to have been intoxicated at the time.
90% of suicide mortalities are found to have lived with mental illness and/or addictions.
40% of alcoholics will attempt suicide.
20% of people with bipolar disorder will die by suicide.
15% of clinically depressed people will die by suicide.
10% of people with schizophrenia will die by suicide.
10% of people with borderline personality disorder will die by suicide, 80% will attempt multiple times.

In Niagara, our self-harm and intentional injury rates for emergency department and hospital admittance continue to be significantly higher than the province. Niagara Region emergency departments see, on average, three people every day for intentional or self-harm injury with 1.38 being admitted to hospital.

One person every eight days dies of suicide in Niagara.

Self-harm injuries rank tenth in emergency department visits and second in hospital admissions. Suicide is the second leading external cause of death in Niagara – though the most recent data available, 2016, shows 44 suicides and 42 opioid overdoses. We consider one a public health crisis, the other a weakness, a fact of life.

Men are more likely to be seen for an intentional injury — usually a fall — and have much lower hospital admittance rates: men tend to choose immediately fatal methods of self-harm. Nationwide, nearly 50% of men choose hanging, while in Niagara nearly 50% of men choose to jump to their deaths.

Women are four times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for self-harm as they tend to choose methods that are either intended to be a cry for help or do not have immediate mortality, such as overdosing on medications, which are often more likely to cause permanent liver and kidney damage over death.

For every 100,000 people in Niagara, 15 men will die from self-harm injuries compared to 6.8 women.

Why are Niagara suicide rates higher than the provincial average?

Why does Niagara continue to have higher opioid overdose rates than the provincial average?

Perhaps the answer lie not in our population but in our ability to access help. Recently, the public has become aware of the issue through mainstream media coverage of one bridges draw as a site to commit suicide. We know, in less than a week, two men choose to end their suffering by jumping off that bridge and onto the 406 below; did you know, since opening, there have actually been at least seven suicides at that spot? Or that there have been multiple unsuccessful attempts?

I spoke to many people while researching this article, including one young man who jumped from that bridge and found himself with two sprained ankles, lying on the 406 for 24 minutes awaiting a vehicle to stop and call for help. That young man was seen in hospital for his ankles then immediately released – without seeing a psychiatrist or being given referrals for help. Perhaps they thought his mobility issues would keep him safe, I dont know… I do know he continues to struggle alone.

Another young man went to the St Catharines hospital site in the week following the two bridge suicides, worried about his suicidal ideation, sat patiently in the emergency room wait area, without being seen by triage and despite telling them he was concerned for his safety. After waiting for over an hour, that young man left the emergency room, was walking to that same bridge, when he thankfully thought to reach out to a worker at a local drop-in centre. That worker was able to convince him to stay at the hospital and came to advocate for his admission.

I heard from many young women as well, the following are from their letters:

“After talking to you I ended up in hospital. I was treated really bad by almost every one. They made me strip down and put on a stiff quilted white gown that had a blood stain on it. Having PTSD as one of my diagnosis found this very triggering as you could see my breasts through the side of the gown. I was restrained in six point restraints. I was also not given any food for two days as I was sleeping at meal times and they didn’t bother to save me food”

“I came here wanting to understand how and why I feel like this and instead I am leaving here with the same questions and feeling more hopeless.”

“The EMS told me next time I will succeed” (in killing myself)

“I don’t want to die, I cut myself to release and went too deep. The hospital stitched me up and called me a cab home. How deep do I have to go to get help?”

These are just a few of the stories I’ve heard in the last few weeks – all St Catharines residents. How many people suffer without reaching out? How many attempts does it take to get meaningful help? It isn’t that hospital staff are uncaring — they went into health care to help people — but Niagara simply does not have the resources or treatment capacity to keep up with the need.

Just as we see in the opioid crisis, treatment wait times are some of the worst in the province; further complicating things is the high rate of concurrent disorders in Niagara, where one lives with both a mental illness and an addiction.

One mother spoke of her son getting into addictions treatment and being told he needed to deal with his mental illness first, when he finally got into a mental health program they wouldn’t treat him while in active addiction. That man, and his family, fought tooth and nail for help that never came – eventually, he walked out of the St Catharines hospital and jumped in front of a train (at the time, the bridge was under construction).

Niagara has failed, and continues to fail, our vulnerable populations. The time has come for Niagara to have a mental health facility – where our population can get comprehensive treatment without leaving the region, where our friends and neighbours can be seen with dignity and heard; no one should beg for help and be turned away.

There is hope: as the public becomes more aware of mental health issues in Niagara, we are mobilising, creating our own support groups, advocating to those who can get the funding we so badly need. From the vigil on the bridge to newly formed community action groups, we are beginning to bridge the gap between the reality of care and the reality of the need. Niagara is uniting.

Imagine walking into a hospital, in front of all those in the waiting room, stating to staff you are worried you are going to take your own life and need help.

Imagine then being made to sit there, without any further conversation, for over an hour and a half with nothing but those negative thoughts to keep you company… before even being triaged.

If that doesn’t sound fucked to you, perhaps it is the people of Niagara who are the problem.

If you need help please call The Distress Centre Niagara at 905-688-3711 or the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) at 1-866-550-5205 and press 1. Neither of these are rapid response. If you are concerned for your, or someone else, safety, call 9-1-1

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