Thank you to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) for inviting me back to speak to the first year Medical Students. Our mandate of creating a proactive dialogue on suicide goes a long way in talking with our future Physicians and those who are on the front line of breaking the stigma that surrounds suicide and mental health.

Although I am not one to focus too much on statistics, I do know that evidence based learning is fundamental, especially for medical students. As I presented, in 2012 the mortality rate in Canada for breast cancer was 19/100,000 and prostate cancer was also 19/100,000. In 2009 the suicide rate in Canada for all men was 17.9/100,000 and for men 40-59 was 27/100,000. In 2009 the total suicide rate was 11.5/100,000 with First Nation youth being 5-7 times greater and the Inuit youth rate being 11 times greater. It’s difficult writing those numbers and not using explicit adjectives but I will let the numbers speak for themselves. Statistics are what they are and we can all agree that they can be looked at in many different ways. However, I believe also that we can come to the consensus that suicide is a serious health issue in Canada.

A serious health issue that remains a major cause of premature and preventable deaths in Canada. From the stories that I shared during my talk, it becomes clear that with open dialogue, training and breaking stigma that suicide can be prevented because we’ve done it. Whether it’s “Charlie”, “Kayla” or the person who told me “there’s no damn way my kids are going to be in your book”… then was admitted to hospital for eight weeks with depression, we know that talking about suicide saves lives.

As medical students and future Physicians I believe it is imperative that tools are provided and built into your curriculum at NOSM (and all Medical Schools across Canada). Programs such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) would be a fundamental starting point. It won’t be until we put something in the curriculum that we will know what is needed in the curriculum. Consistently and because suicide is a community health issue, your voice and leadership is needed to advocate for training and tools for; nurses, teachers, coaches and in the workplace. Tools such as SafeTALK are to suicide what CPR is to heart attacks. This approach is no different than our existing models of health care. Let’s take cardiology for example. In Thunder Bay, we have invested over $12Million in angioplasty and because of this we have had a profound impact on the positive outcomes of cardiac patients. Yet, not only do we continue to teach CPR, there is a heightened need for community based CPR to support the angioplasty program. Investment and training will break stigma and save lives. Imagine what a $12Million investment in mental health in Thunder Bay and our region would do for suicide prevention.

Imagine sitting in your Doctor’s office and seeing a poster or brochure that reads, “Are you or someone you know thinking about suicide?” “talk to your Doctor about it.” I know that the demand on Family Physicians is extreme but by simply encouraging the dialogue you will break the stigma and invite the conversation. Further, your job now is to link to existing community resources in the same fashion as you would with Physiotherapy, cardiac rehab, diagnostics and yes, like a patient with chest pain, calling an ambulance for transportation to Emergency at the hospital, because their life depends on it.

When it comes to suicide prevention, what are we doing differently than we did thirty years ago?

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is the newest Medical School in North America and it was designed to serve a region with the highest suicide rate in the world. I not only believe that NOSM ought to be a leader in suicide prevention I strongly believe that NOSM can be a leader in suicide prevention.

Please leave your comments below and I look forward to a continued dialogue.

Not talking about it isn’t working.

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