Tom Barlow, left, nominated for three Juno Awards and a graduate of Brebeuf College, performed at the “No Health without Mental Health” symposium run by the TCDSB in November. The event kicked off the Stop the Stigma campaign to increase mental health awareness in schools. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

Suicide rates rising among Canadian girls

  • April 11, 2012

Suicide rates in girls between the ages of 10 and 19 have increased 54 per cent over the past 30 years, says a recent study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Researchers from the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 50 females between ages 10 and 19 committed suicide in Canada in 1980, compared to 77 in 2008. Conversely, suicide rates among young males declined from 249 suicides to 156, a 37 per cent decrease.

“It’s hugely disturbing, but not surprising,” said Sr. Susan Glaab, a campus minister and spiritual director at King’s University College.

“What’s lacking for young people is a coping mechanism,” said Glaab. “They tend to feel disconnected, anxious and overwhelmed, and when that happens, you start to isolate yourself.”

To cope with negative feelings, Glaab suggests young people try to find meaning and purpose in their life along with seeing a spiritual director on a regular basis.

Getting involved in social outreach activities can also be helpful, she said.

“You’re going outside of yourself to give to others and then you find meaning and purpose.”

As a campus minister, Glaab feels the increase in suicides may exist as young people today are more isolated.

“We live in an individualistic society. It’s all about me. And I think that puts a lot of strain on people. They don’t have supports around them like they used to.”

Religion and spirituality can be beneficial because you have a community of faith supporting you whom you can always turn to, she said.

Patricia Marra-Stapleton, mental health lead and psychological associate for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, echoes Glaab’s sentiments on faith communities, which she calls a protective factor.

“We have a strong foundation in our Catholic faith around community and compassion and those kinds of things all contribute to the person’s sense of self,” she said.

Marra-Stapleton said trends across Canada show an increase in emotional disturbance among young people.

Social media may play a role, she said, calling it both a friend and foe.

“It invites social disengagement and I believe that females are more at risk for the negative aspects of social disengagement than males are.”

But while she said it may be a contributing factor, it’s not the only factor given that the study looked at data from the past 30 years.

“Social media is part of this lexicon of mental well being just as is talking to your friends, exercising and eating right. It’s a double-edged sword.”

There is a lot of pressure on women to want to achieve in a whole variety of different areas in life, said Maureen Wicken, co-ordinator of campus ministry at St. Mark’s College in Vancouver.

“There’s pressure to achieve academically, socially and to somehow be able to sustain relationships that then become family,” said Wicken.

But she worries that those able to help students coping with difficulties may be tempted to give them an “easy” answer such as “if you just pray more.”

Awareness and education are the only tools shown to be preventive in suicide, said Marra-Stapleton.

“If we can catch the kid that is showing early signs of depression and give them treatment then maybe we can prevent something.”

One widely accepted treatment for depression is talk therapy, known as cognitive behaviour therapy, she said.

The TCDSB runs a year-long Stop the Stigma campaign, which aims to remove the “cloak of privacy among teens.”

“Our objective is by targeting stigma, diminishing stigma, more kids will feel comfortable talking about thoughts of wanting to kill themselves,” said Marra-Stapleton.

Once young people tell somebody how they’re feeling, they’ll be on a road of care and healing.

“And then because you’re on that different positive trajectory to getting care and treatment, the possibility of suicide is diminished.”

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