Tag Archives: Suicide

Burdened by debt and unable to eke out a living, many farmers in India turn to suicide

Kiran Kaur surveys her family’s paltry plot of land in Mansa, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, and gestures dismissively at the three acres of wheat that will soon yield to cotton plants, which bring in little profit.

“Cotton is a complete failure for us,” she said. Prices are low, and the cost of producing the fibre is far too high.

It’s what drove her father, Gurnam Singh, to take his own life nearly five years ago on the same plot of land that defeated him, driving the family to the edge of economic ruin, she says. 

“Life is still very tough without him here,” Kaur, 25, told CBC News. “But that first year after his death almost destroyed me and my family. 

“I dropped my studies and sat at home. The world blacked out for me. I have no recollection of the 10 days that followed his death.” 

Many in Punjab grow water-intensive crops such as cotton, wheat and rice, which has pushed farmers to invest heavily in irrigation and pesticides to protect crops, often depleting their savings and adding to debt. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

What fills Kaur with guilt is that she didn’t see it coming. Her father was one of her best friends, and yet, he kept the crippling debt he was struggling to manage hidden from her and the family.

“When he died, things were falling apart,” acknowledged Shinderpal Kaur, Kiran’s mother.

She knew about the massive loans her husband had taken out to pay for their eldest daughter’s wedding and to cover medical treatment for Kiran. Even so, the notion that her husband would kill himself never entered her mind. 

“I never thought [the suicide crisis] would hit me,” Shinderpal said. “Not in my wildest dreams.”

The crisis is deeply felt in Mansa, one of the poorest districts in Punjab, which is often referred to as the country’s breadbasket, because of its rich soil and rice fields.

Kiran’s mother, Shinderpal Kaur, foreground, said the years without her husband have been excruciatingly difficult, as she worries about whether the cotton and wheat crops they are growing will be enough to cover the family’s bills. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Nearly every village here has had a string of suicides over the past few decades, but the problem goes beyond the district and even the state. 

Bankruptcy, debt major factors

As in the rest of the world, the agriculture sector in India is hit disproportionately hard by suicide. Sixty per cent of the country’s population works in agriculture.

The latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows more than 10,000 farmers and agricultural labourers killed themselves in 2019 — that’s 7.4 per cent of India’s total suicide victims. (As a comparison, students also made up 7.4 per cent while civil servants accounted for 1.2 per cent.)

That means an average of 28 suicides in India’s farming community every day.

WATCH | How one Punjabi woman is dealing with the death of her father:

Hidden behind the headlines of the massive farmer protests in India is a suicide crisis that’s devastating families. The latest numbers show 30 farmers die by suicide every day in the country. 4:00

While there’s rarely just one factor that leads to suicide, the root causes for the suicides among India’s farmers highlighted in the government’s data are mainly linked to despair over their livelihoods. That ranges from bankruptcy and debt to farming-related issues and crop failure.

The crisis is spread across two dozen of India’s states, with the highest number of agricultural suicides in the densely populated Maharashtra state. But it is particularly acute in Punjab, where farmer suicides have increased more than tenfold in the past five years.

The state was transformed in the mid-1960s by the Green Revolution, when the government introduced subsidies to encourage farmers to grow high-yielding rice and wheat varieties that eventually led to the country becoming self-sufficient in those grains. 

But over the years, problems started to accumulate. All those water-intensive paddy fields led to the depletion of the area’s groundwater. Many farmers poured money into digging deeper wells and into pesticides to protect their crops, but their costs spiralled, leading to crushing debt for many.

‘A social phenomenon’

Decades in the making, it’s such a deep-rooted crisis that many farmers take their own lives by consuming a pesticide called Sulfas. In Haryana state, the phrase “consuming Sulfas” has become shorthand for suicide. 

“It’s become a social phenomenon,” said Vikas Rawal, an economics professor specializing in agrarian distress at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. He noted that references to Sulfas have also turned up in songs dealing with the plight of India’s farmers. 

“It’s a loss-making enterprise, but these farmers don’t have anything else to do, so they just keep doing it,” Rawal said. Jobs are scarce, and many people are also reluctant to give up even the smallest plot of land their families own to work for someone else. Rawal said they end up having few options but to descend further into debt. 

He said up to 90 per cent of India’s farmers can’t cover the basic costs of fertilizer, seeds, pesticide and other equipment. 

“Your cost of production has gone up and then you’ve been made to compete with the world,” Rawal said, especially with the majority of India’s farmers tilling tiny plots of land.  

“That has squeezed incomes of farmers so much that basically they’re being forced to commit suicide.” 

‘We never had a happy day’

Kiran Kaur’s family in Mansa has been especially hard hit. Her father was one of three brothers out of four who took their own lives, leaving behind three widows and their young children. 

Kiran’s aunt Malkeet lost her husband to suicide 17 years ago, when their two sons were eight and 10 years old. The years since have been difficult, she said, wiping away tears, with a nephew taking care of the fields because her children were too young. 

Gurmeet Kaur, Kiran’s aunt, lost her husband to suicide two years ago, after struggling daily to turn a profit on their small farm. ‘We never had a happy day,’ she told CBC. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Malkeet Kaur’s husband killed himself 17 years ago in Mansa, leaving behind his widow, two young boys and persistent worries about repaying loans. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

It took five years before anyone explained to Malkeet how to apply for her government-issued widow’s pension. Once she got it, it only came intermittently, disappearing inexplicably for years at a time before being re-introduced. 

The pension is the equivalent of $ 12 Cdn a month.

“It’s a pittance and makes little difference anyway,” Malkeet Kaur said wryly.  

Another of Kiran’s aunts, Gurmeet Kaur, sat staring into the distance during our interview, clearly still mourning her husband, Gumdoor. He took his life two years ago, on New Year’s Day. 

“We never had a happy day,” Gurmeet told CBC. “The daily struggle basically destroys you.

“We used to think we were doing all this work for our children. But once the father dies, the children are burdened.”

She also said she felt betrayed by nature when bad weather led to crop failure.

No national prevention strategy

India’s suicide rate was 12.7 per 100,000 as of 2019, according to the WHO, but experts have said the actual numbers are likely far higher than the official figures because of the stigma in a country where trying to take your own life is still listed as a crime in the penal code. 

The country also lacks a national suicide prevention strategy, although some initiatives are folded into India’s mental health plan. In 2016, the Modi government introduced a crop failure insurance program in an attempt to address a spate of farmer suicides following a lengthy drought. 

WATCH | Indian farmers hold firm in protests over agricultural laws:

For nearly four months, farmers in India have held protests to oppose new agricultural laws they say will strip them of their livelihoods. But the government has only offered them only a few concessions, and the protesters say they won’t back down until there are more changes. 2:32

The fact that India, like nearly every other economy, has been hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns has drastically compounded the suicide problem, according to Rawal. 

He also fears the potential impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new farm laws, which have prompted months of protests, has also driven up suicide rates. 

In September, India abruptly transformed the way the country’s massive agricultural sector works, passing new laws that reduce the role of the government in grain markets in an attempt to modernize the industry. It’s a move the farmers fear will push prices down and further ruin livelihoods.

“Having fought for so long to survive … [they] just don’t see this government giving a damn about it,” Rawal said. “That’s forced some people to actually take their lives there in the protest sites or when they went back home.”

It’s estimated several hundred farmers have died at the three large protest camps currently surrounding India’s capital, New Delhi, but it’s unclear how many of those killed themselves.

Tens of thousands of India’s farmers have been camped out for months at several sites bordering India’s capital, New Delhi, in protest of the government’s new laws, which farmers fear will crush livelihoods. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

As a result of the severe backlash, the proposed laws are now on hold, but tens of thousands of farmers are still camped out in protest, pushing for a complete repeal of the legislation.

‘There needs to be reform’

The standoff is in its fourth month even though both sides know the system as it stands is unsustainable, said Harish Damodaran, agriculture editor at the daily newspaper The Indian Express. 

“Everyone agrees that there needs to be reform … that this cannot be sustained forever,” Damodaran said. “Even the farmers themselves.” 

But he said the Modi government’s error was not moving slowly and prioritizing financial incentives for India’s farmers to diversify the crops they grow. 

“It has to be done very sensibly, very carefully, very sensitively. No reform is possible without consulting the stakeholders,” Damodaran said. 

Many farmers across India are struggling with high debt to keep their farms going. More than 10,000 farmers or agricultural labourers took their own lives in 2019. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

The protesting farmers see the so-called black laws as a path to allowing large corporations in and a means to decimate the traditional “mandi” system, which guarantees a minimum price for their produce.

“We’re not going to leave until we get what we came here for,” said Surinder Singh, who has a small farm in Punjab, while sitting near his chai stand at Singhu, the largest protest site surrounding Delhi. 

“We know we’ll be here for the long haul, years if needed,” Singh said. He said the harvest will continue to be done by others at home, allowing the protesters to stay put. 

“We will win this war,” he said. 

Helping widows ‘to be heard’

Even with the regulated minimum price for rice and wheat in some areas, many farmers are barely making ends meet. The fact it could disappear is a devastating thought for many at the protests. 

Many don’t trust the Indian government, which has promised it will not get rid of the floor price. Kiran feels that fear whenever she walks around the protest camp. 

She often visits a community kitchen set up by a rotating group of widows at the Singhu camp. On one recent visit, the women were making rotis for other protesters, loudly joking that India’s prime minister should come visit and speak to them directly to truly understand the life of an Indian farmer. 

Kiran Kaur joins a group of widows making roti at the Singhu protest site, set up by farmers bordering the Indian capital. It’s part of the work Kaur does to support families left behind by suicide. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

After the loss of her father, Kiran started an organization to help widows in her home state. She now buses around Punjab, meeting widows and their families to explain the services available to them, and to emotionally support those “teetering on the brink” and contemplating suicide.

She sees it as another way to honour what her father would have wanted for her. 

“The government does not care,” Kiran said. “Nobody wants to talk to or listen to the widows or the families of suicide victims.”  

Hearing the stories, day after day, of widows struggling is not easy, but it gives Kiran strength. “It furthers my resolve to fight for them, to help them be heard.”

WATCH | The world reacts to farmers’ protests:

Supporters of farmers protesting for months in India are grateful for the international response to the movement. But there are others who think the outside world shouldn’t meddle with India’s affairs. 2:42

If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service toll-free at 1-833-456-4566, 24 hours a day, or texting 45645. (The text service is available from 4 p.m. to midnight Eastern time).

If you feel your mental health or the mental health of a loved one is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

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Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to Larry Nassar dies by suicide after charges

A former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar killed himself Thursday, hours after being charged with turning his Michigan gym into a hub of human trafficking by coercing girls to train and then abusing them, authorities said.

John Geddert was supposed to appear in an Eaton County court, near Lansing, Mich. His body was found at a rest area along Interstate 96, according to state police. No other details were immediately released.

“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Nessel earlier announced that Geddert was charged with two dozen crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal enterprise. The charges were the latest fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison.

Geddert, 63, was head coach of the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He was long associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team’s doctor and also treated injured gymnasts at Twistars, Geddert’s Lansing-area gym.

Among the charges, Geddert was accused of lying to investigators in 2016 when he denied ever hearing complaints about Nassar. But the bulk of the case against him involved his gym in Dimondale and how he treated the young athletes whose families paid to have them train under him.

The charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar, said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark.

‘It can happen to anyone, anywhere’

Geddert was charged with using his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labour of young athletes.

“The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault,” Nessel said.

“Many of these victims still carry these scars from this behaviour to this day.”

The attorney general acknowledged that the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.

“We think of it predominantly as affecting people of colour or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “Young, impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial well-being of their families.”

Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. In 2018, he told families he was retiring.

On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan gymnastics history.” He said his Twistars teams won 130 club championships.

But Geddert was often portrayed in unflattering ways when Nassar’s victims spoke during court hearings in 2018.

“What a great best friend John was to Larry for giving him an entire world where he was able to abuse so easily,” said gymnast Lindsey Lemke. “You two sure do have a funny meaning of friendship. You, John Geddert, also deserve to sit behind bars right next to Larry.”

Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, said she was proud of the women who stepped forward against Geddert.

“So much pain and grief for everyone,” she said on Twitter after Geddert’s death. “To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you.”

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Conservative MP calls for nationwide three-digit suicide hotline

As health professionals warn that the pandemic is taking a heavy toll on many Canadians’ mental health, a Conservative MP is calling on the federal government to set up a national hotline for suicide prevention.

Todd Doherty, MP for Cariboo-Prince George, recently tabled a motion in Parliament to bring together existing suicide prevention services under one national, three-digit phone number: 988.

“I believe that we must do everything in our power to prepare for that onslaught of mental health issues and challenges that we’re going to face due to COVID,” said Doherty.

“When they’re at that point where they want to ask for help, a simple, easy, three-digit number to remember could make the difference between a life saved and a life lost.”

Mental health professionals have been pushing for a nationwide hotline as well. Dr. Allison Crawford is the chief medical officer of the Canada Suicide Prevention Service, which operates a national 10-digit, 24-hour hotline for suicide prevention services.

‘A barrier that doesn’t need to exist’

Since COVID hit, she said, the service has seen a 200 per cent increase in demand. A three-digit hotline would be easier for people in distress to access, she said, while a national program would signal to them that the federal government sees helping them as a priority.

“In a crisis, looking for a 10 digit number is a barrier — a barrier that doesn’t need to exist,” said Dr. Crawford, who is also a psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Establishing a single, nationwide suicide hotline would involve linking together existing crisis services that now operate locally or regionally. The Canada Suicide Prevention Service hotline, which receives federal funding, is currently connected to roughly 10 of Canada’s more than 200 local distress centres — something Dr. Crawford said she and her team are working to improve.

The United States is in the midst of adopting an 988 hotline, but that process is expected to take four years and cost more than half a billion dollars in its first year of operation.

Canada could get it done faster, said Dr. Crawford, as long as the federal and provincial governments come together.

“I’m optimistic we can hopefully get that done within the next one to two years,” she said, adding that the project will require support from multiple political parties.

“I think there’s growing support and there are very willing and enthusiastic partners in creating this.”

Conservative B.C. MP Todd Doherty: (Todd Doherty/Youtube)

Doherty said he is convinced a national hotline would spare some others the pain he experienced when his best friend at age 14 died by suicide.

“All these years later, I still have so many questions,” said Doherty, who was named special adviser to Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on mental health and wellness.

“I was probably one of the last ones to see, if not the last one to see, my friend alive. I just wish I could see them again and — I’ve said it publicly — tell them that I love them …”

In the years since his friend’s death, Doherty has devoted time to suicide prevention and working with at-risk youth. Five years ago, he began pushing a private member’s bill on establishing a federal framework to recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. That work  connected him with many Canadians in distress and a lot of first responders.

‘The grief … only grows greater’

He described speaking at the funeral of a young woman who committed suicide last year — how the looks on the faces of the young people gathered to mourn their friend reminded him of his own anguish at the same age.

“The grief one feels and experiences from suicide, I think it only grows greater as the years go by, because that sense of loss grows greater,” he said. “You understand what you’ve really, truly lost in terms of friendship, in terms of loved ones.”

Doherty said he hopes to see his motion come up for debate in Parliament in the coming weeks. His preliminary conversations with other political parties have been encouraging, he added.

“We have to be better. We have to be better not just [in] creating hope but [also] breaking down that barrier and breaking down that stigma so people feel comfortable coming forward,” he said.

Hajdu open to ‘exploring’ hotline idea

In a media statement, Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s office offered no clear commitment to a national hotline but said the idea is worth studying.

“Our government is committed to exploring how a three digit prevention number can be implemented,” the statement reads.

Hajdu’s office also pointed to other federal efforts to support Canadians’ mental resilience during the pandemic. The government set up an online portal — Wellness Together Canada — which offers mental health and substance use supports, individual counselling, monitored support groups and mental wellness programs. Hajdu’s office said that, as of last month, more than 530,000 Canadians had accessed the portal.

The United States has committed to putting a national 988 hotline in place by 2022.

U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump began a push for the hotline in 2018, when they launched a study of options to replace the country’s 1-800 suicide prevention hotline with an easy-to-remember, three-digit option.

Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law in October. The project will cost approximately $ 570 million US in the first year, according to a report by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Almost half of that sum is a one-time outlay to replace switches in the phone network, while some of the money will go to boosting call centre capacity and a public awareness campaign.

The FCC concluded the service would be worth the money, saying the life-saving benefits would outweigh the cost of implementation.

Dr. Crawford said the Canada Suicide Prevention Service is working with the Mental Health Commission of Canada to survey Canadians on the idea of a three-digit national hotline. She said they hope to release a white paper on the subject in the new year.

“Suicide is preventable,” she said. “It’s important to say that every time.”

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text) | crisisservicescanada.ca (Chat)

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

Suicidal thoughts.
Substance abuse.
Feeling trapped.
Hopelessness and helplessness.
Mood changes.

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Dozens killed in suicide bombing at Afghan education centre

A suicide bombing at an education centre in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul killed 24 people including teenage students and wounded dozens more on Saturday, officials said.

A Ministry of Interior spokesman, Tariq Arian, said security guards had identified a bomber who detonated explosives in the street outside the Kawsar-e Danish centre.

Most of the victims were students aged between 15 and 26, according to the health ministry. Fifty-seven were injured in the attack, the interior ministry said.

A Taliban spokesman on Twitter denied responsibility for the attack, which came at a sensitive time as teams representing the insurgents and the government meet in Qatar to seek a peace deal.

Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement on Telegram, without providing evidence.

Family members gathered at a nearby hospital, searching for missing loved ones among bags containing the remains of those killed, laid out on the hospital floor, while outside orderlies wheeled injured patients on stretchers for treatment, a Reuters witness said.

‘How much more can we endure?’

The attack, which was condemned by NATO and the Afghan government, took place in an area of west Kabul that is home to many from the country’s Shia community, a religious minority in Afghanistan targeted in the past by groups such as Islamic State.

Dozens of students died in the same area of Kabul in an attack on another education centre in 2018.

Relatives carry the coffin of a victim who was killed after a roadside bomb tore through a minivan full of civilians in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province on Saturday. (AFP via Getty Images)

A teacher at the Kawsar-e Danish centre, who asked not to be named due to security concerns, said he and other teaching staff were in shock at the targeting of the institution which had provided tutoring to give thousands of children a pathway to higher education.

“All the students were full of energy, belonging to poor families but hoping for a brighter future,” he said.

The latest attack came on the back of heavy fighting in multiple provinces in recent weeks, which has displaced thousands of civilians.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad early on Sunday on Twitter called again for an immediate reduction in violence and an acceleration in the peace process, citing rising violence in the country in recent weeks including a finding by the human rights commission that an Afghan government airstrike had killed 12 children.

“How much more can we endure, as individuals and as society? How many times can we rise?” asked Shaharzad Akbar, chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s attack, saying the targeting of civilians was a war crime.

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RCMP’s suicide prevention programs ‘unwittingly deficient,’ says internal report on Mountie’s death

RCMP Const. Jean-Pascal Nolin — a father of two who had served nearly 12 years with the force — was last seen alive at a downtown Ottawa RCMP office on March 17, 2016.

He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound just a few hours later.

Nolin’s suicide came more than a year after he took part in the police response to the fatal Parliament Hill shootings in 2014. His death left his co-workers shaken.

Now, a recently released internal report on his death, its aftermath and the underlying factors says the RCMP lacks awareness about Mountie suicides — and its ability to prevent suicides in the ranks likely falls short as a result.

“Sadly, the force must sometimes learn and grow in the wake of a tragedy,” says the report, obtained through an access to information request.

“The fact that the employer has not developed a strategy to closely monitor and adequately detect any decompensation in its employees’ mental health contributed to putting [Const.] Nolin at risk.”

The report’s authors, members of the RCMP’s hazardous occurrence investigation team, say they’ll never truly know why Nolin killed himself — and make a point of stating that his supervisors didn’t miss any overt warning signs in Nolin’s case.

However, their report points to gaps in the way the RCMP handles mental health and suggests several improvements.

One of its main recommendations is for fresh research — for the RCMP to find out how many active and retired members have killed themselves or have attempted to, and why.

“The non-existence of a national study on the specific trends relating to member and employee related suicides may have left RCMP programs and courses unwittingly deficient in content specific to these trends and issues,” says the 39-page report.

“This lack of educational awareness impacted the RCMP’s ability to intervene in [Const.] Nolin’s situation.” 

Tracking the symptoms of post-traumatic stress

The report’s investigators said that while they were compiling their findings, there were four suicide attempts by RCMP members in the Ottawa area alone.

According to the RCMP’s latest figures, there have been 25 documented suicides among RCMP members — 15 active members and 10 retirees — between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 13, 2019.

Police respond to the downtown Ottawa office where RCMP Const. Jean-Pascal Nolin died on March 17, 2016. (CBC)

The report says a national study should look into the work and life factors that put members’ mental health at risk, and should find out whether members “are succumbing to mental illness for endemic reasons within the control of or further influence by the employer.”

The report also calls for a strategy to better detect symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and to improve training to teach Mounties to recognize warning signs in themselves and their colleagues.

It also recommends increased aftercare support for staff when someone in a detachment dies.

At least six officers and two civilian members were either close to the scene when Nolin died or saw his body afterward. But the report says the RCMP didn’t even know who was involved in the critical incident.

Many of those affected by Nolin’s suicide who were interviewed for the report said they were left “disappointed” and “wanting more” from their employer.

“There is a significant gap between what is considered a debriefing by the critical incident stress management guide and what is expected by the affected members,” says the report.

RCMP is in the market for psychologists

Brian Sauvé is the president of the RCMP’s new union, the National Police Federation. He said the force has made some progress since 2016 in decreasing the stigma surrounding the issue of mental health within the RCMP, but it still has a long way to go.

“We are a massive organization and those things are going to take time. We cannot take our foot off the gas. In fact, I would suggest we have to step harder on the gas pedal to improve knowledge, to approve availability of services, to expedite care to those who have been exposed,” he said.

A spokesperson for the RCMP said the force would not comment on specific cases, out of respect for the privacy of its former employees and their families.

In an email, Cpl. Caroline Duval said the RCMP hopes to hire 14 new psychologists over the next year to help with the prevention and early detection of mental health issues.

“The health, safety and resiliency of our members is a top priority for the RCMP and is essential to public safety,” said Duval.

“We are educating employees at all levels that psychological health problems are not anyone’s choice, and that recovery and management are possible with appropriate treatment and support.”

The force also has teamed up with the University of Regina to study PTSD among Mountie cadets.

Sauvé said he’d still like to see a national study of RCMP suicides.

“The first step really is acknowledging that there’s an issue,” he said.

“I think we realize that one death is too many, whether they’re serving members or they’re retired members. And in order to actually determine the magnitude of that, we need to start studying and tracking the data for the RCMP.”

‘One drop of water in the bucket can make it overflow’

Sauvé, who serves as a sergeant in the RCMP, said that the force also needs to reckon with a resources problem.

“We can train and teach our membership to be resilient to what they experience in the field. The challenges are that if you’re so under-resourced as we are — where days off are not a possibility, taking your holidays to rest and recharge with your family is not a possibility because of the continuous overtime and the need to backfill positions that are not filled —  all of a sudden no matter how well you train someone to be resilient, if there’s no work-life balance that resilience starts to erode,” he said. 

“Over time you just end up in a scenario where … for lack of a better term, you’re burned-out and one drop of water in the bucket can make it overflow.”

Last fall, after a British Columbia staff sergeant went public about the lack of support resources, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the force has “more work to do” to improve its officers’ mental health.

“We continually work to improve our efforts to maintain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace through increased accountability for well-being, aligned services and programs, increased engagement and increased knowledge of employee needs and well-being,” Lucki said at the time.

“But we know we have more work to do.”

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‘We have hope’: Ottawa pledges to support First Nations suicide prevention strategies

In the wake of a 10-year-old girl’s suicide on his reserve, the Chief of Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation flew more than 3,000 kilometres to Ottawa to sit face-to-face with the federal minister of Indigenous services.

In that meeting Wednesday morning, Chief Ronald Mitsuing received confirmation from Minister Mark Miller that the federal government would financially support a suicide prevention strategy released last year by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan.

The strategy was billed as the first “decolonized, First Nations-led approach” to suicide prevention and intervention in Canada.

“I’m so happy today. It’s something. The government is going to work with us,” Mitsuing said. “We have hope, now. He gave us hope.”

Mitsuing said he gave the minister a “big hug.”

The chief is going home with high expectations, despite the fact Miller’s office won’t commit to a dollar figure to invest in the strategy. 

“This is a priority,” a statement from Miller’s office said.

Jaylyn Angus, 10, died by suicide on Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation on November 21, 2019. (Submitted by Dorothy Angus)

Four people have taken their own lives in Makwa Sahgaiehcan in the past five months — including a 10-year-old, two teens and an adult man — and another eight teens have attempted suicide in the past two weeks.

There have been calls for suicide prevention strategies and funding for years.

On Tuesday, the federal minister spoke at a special gathering of chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations from across Canada. He pledged to support the development of a national youth suicide prevention strategy.

While that could take awhile, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said he’s poised to roll out their plan in all 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

“We’re ready…we could implement it next week,” Cameron said.

He says he asked Miller for $ 5 million over the next five to ten years to implement the strategy.

“Whether they honour that number remains to be seen, but at least the commitment is there,” Cameron said. 

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron (left) and Makwa Sahgaeihcan First Nation Chief Ronald Mitsuing both met with Indigenous Services Minister Mark Miller in Ottawa this week. (CBC News)

First Nations teenage girl is 29 times more likely to die by suicide

The FSIN analyzed coroner’s reports from suicides in Saskatchewan between 2005 and 2016 and concluded that a First Nations teen girl is 29 times more likely to kill herself than a non-Indigenous teen girl.

The strategy focuses on language and culture. It promises to empower communities to choose their method of healing, with options that include land-based activities and access to healing lodges, ceremonies, Elders, social workers, and addictions and mental health counselling.

“We will support community‐led action and build on cultural and community strengths,” the FSIN report states.

In early November, Linda Roberts travelled from La Ronge to the Saskatchewan legislature with a photo of her daughter Jadene, 14, who took her own life. Four girls in La Ronge and Stanley Mission died by suicide in October 2016. (CBC News)

The strategy echoes Chief Mitsuing’s message that his community doesn’t want to rely on the government or outsiders to help their families. Ultimately, he said, those people leave.

“We need to learn to take care of ourselves, because we know where the problems are,” Mitsuing said. 

“If we send in people from out-of-town that nobody knows, I don’t think they will connect with them. But if they train our people, we’ll always have somebody there on reserve.”

In his meeting with the minister, Mitsuing asked for funding for a permanent counsellor, parenting support, a suicide intervention worker, respite for teachers and funeral costs. He also wants a forensic audit of band finances to sort out past irregularities and bolster confidence moving forward.

Miller’s office confirmed there will be new money earmarked for suicide strategies, but said how much “will be determined through discussions with partners.”

In a statement, a spokesperson said the minister would sit down with First Nations officials and “see what supports they need and how they can be implemented quickly.”

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Youth suicide attempts often involve over-the-counter painkillers, U.S. study suggests

Young people who attempt suicide by poisoning often use antidepressants or over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, a U.S. study suggests.

For the study, researchers examined U.S. Poison Center data from 2000-2018 on 1.68 million suspected cases of suicide by self-poisoning among people ages 10 to 25. Overall, one in four cases resulted in serious or potentially life-threatening medical issues.

Rates of serious medical issues after self-poisoning rose with age, from 20 per cent of attempted suicides among 10 to 12-year-olds to 28 per cent among 22 to 25-year-olds.

More than 90 per cent of cases involved pharmaceuticals, the study found. Two of the substances most often used among all age groups were over-the-counter painkillers and antidepressants which, combined, made up more than one-third of the suicide attempts involving poison.

“It is likely because these are so widely available, in almost every home,” said Dr. Henry Spiller, lead author of the study and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

“Additionally, they can be purchased easily and cheaply,” Spiller said by email. “In therapeutic doses these medications are quite safe but in very large doses, acetaminophen causes liver failure and aspirin causes metabolic acidosis, seizures and coma.”

Analgesics were among the substances used in poisoning attempts that most often resulted in serious health issues, along with antidepressants, antihistamines, and antipsychotics.

Prescription medicines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were common in suicide attempts by younger children and teens and had the highest risk of serious medical outcomes.

Opioids only accounted for about seven per cent of cases with serious medical outcomes.

Sedatives and hypnotics were used more often among older age groups, researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology.

Suicide attempts dropped in the summer for youth 18 and under, but not for young adults ages 19 to 21. And cases spiked during the summer among 22- to 25-year-olds.

The study didn’t examine what factors might lead to suicide attempts by poisoning.

Even so, the findings should remind parents that even older children need to be kept away from medications, said Dr. Lois Lee, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital who wasn’t involved in the study.

“It is not realistic for all home medications to be locked away,” Lee said by email. “However, parents should strongly consider locking away acetaminophen, ADHD medications, antihistamines and psychiatric medications, where even a relatively small overdose could lead to serious medical consequences. Parents can use medication lockboxes using a key that only the parent could access to secure these medications from teens and young adults.”

While most attempts by poisoning don’t result in death, they can still cause significant harm, Lee said.

“Suicide is often an impulsive act,” she noted. “With suicide attempted by poisoning, most drug effects take time to develop symptoms, which provides time for the individual to either tell someone (e.g. friend, parent) about their poisoning and/or makes the poisoning apparent with the development of symptoms. Then the individual can have the appropriate medical care and psychiatric care administered.”

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | crisisservicescanada.ca (chat).

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553).

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), www.kidshelpphone.ca (live chat counselling).

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.

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U of T students demand change in wake of suicide on campus

Twenty-four students at the University of Toronto are calling on the school to improve its mental health services  immediately after a student died by suicide in a computer science building on Friday.

Loizza Aquino, a third year student, and Ashwini Selvakumaran, a second year student, say they have formed a new advocacy group, UofThrive, to give students a voice. The group is already organizing its first event for Thursday, Oct. 10 to coincide with World Mental Health Day. 

Aquino, who is taking mental health and international development studies, said the group wants to create awareness surrounding mental health at U of T in the wake of the suicide. She noted the group was formed by 24 students in 24 hours. Group members come from all three U of T campuses in downtown Toronto, Scarborough and Mississauga. 

According to Aquino, UofThrive is already taking applications for speakers and performers of its first event.

“I think our main goal right now is to start a conversation on campus, across all three of them, and also to eliminate and eradicate the … kind of culture that we have around being a student at the University of Toronto,” Aquino said on Monday.

“You are not supposed to eat, you are not supposed to sleep, you are not supposed to take care of yourself, and that’s we equate with success.”

The demand for change comes after the university announced on Sunday that it has installed temporary safety barriers at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, where the death occurred.

Toronto police have confirmed that they were called to the school at 6:30 p.m. on Friday for a medical call related to a death that was not criminal in nature. Toronto paramedics have confirmed that a death occurred on campus.

In a tweet on Saturday, the school confirmed that a student died on campus. The student’s name, sex and age, year and faculty have not been released. 

Wait times for counselling too long, students say

Aquino and Selvakumaran say wait times at the U of T Health and Wellness Centre, St. George, which provides counselling for students, are too long, especially for students in crisis. CBC Toronto has asked the centre to respond to their concerns, but it has not yet received a response.

In a tweet on Saturday, the University of Toronto confirmed that a student died on campus. The student’s name, sex and age, year and faculty have not been released. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In an Instagram post on the weekend, Aquino says there is a need for more talk about mental health, better resources and services. She pointed out that the school has lost a student to suicide less than a month after school year started.

In an interview with CBC Toronto on Monday, she said the lack of conversation about mental health means students who are suffering do not necessarily know where to get help or how to talk about such problems as depression, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

International students may face a language or cultural barrier, she added. “They’re in a new country. They might not know where exactly to reach out for help,” she said.

Selvakumaran, who is taking peace, conflict and justice studies, said many students have already expressed support for the group.

“We all really had a like-minded goal to establish a platform where our students at our university feel reassured and supported … So many students have come up to us to tell us how grateful they are for this initiative and it’s only been a little over 24 hours,” she said on Monday.

The Bahen Centre for Information Technology was closed for part of the weekend after a student died there on Friday.  (Google Maps)

Selvakumaran said typically, U of T students feel pressured to be successful academically and in terms of extracurricular activities. She said students have limited time for themselves but mental health is crucial for well-being.

She said she herself had to wait for months for counselling at the U of T Health and Wellness Centre. In her first year, she felt overwhelmed by academic pressure and a lack of social support. She sent a request to the centre in March for an appointment but did not receive a response until the summer. 

“Personally, I found it very difficult to access any of the resources I could at the University of Toronto and I had to turn to other support systems like my family and friends,” she said.

“While I’m lucky to have a strong support system, many students at this university don’t have that, specifically international students who are so far away from home.”

The group, UofThrive, hopes to change that by creating a new “support community,” she added.

‘This needs to be addressed’

Samer Henry, a PhD engineering student and teaching assistant, said he was in a meeting for teaching assistants in the computer science building on Friday. He said he and other students were escorted out by Toronto police and paramedics.

Samer Henry, a PhD engineering student and teaching assistant, has a message for students: ‘Go to the resources. Go to the health and wellness centre. Reach out in any way or form. You should not be alone. If you feel that you would like to talk to someone, there are people who would be willing to hear you out.’ (CBC)

“It was the first time for pretty much all of us to be this close and feeling that this is so real and this is a big problem. This needs to be addressed,” he said.

Henry said he offered crisis support for the other teaching assistants there but he sought help on Saturday at the health and wellness centre.

Henry said he was shocked but has a message for students in crisis: “Go to the resources. Go to the health and wellness centre. Reach out in any way or form. You should not be alone. If you feel that you would like to talk to someone, there are people who would be willing to hear you out.”

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Parents whose daughter died by suicide call for compassion

A Quispamsis man who buried his 21-year-old daughter this month after she succumbed to injuries suffered in a suicide attempt, says he’s been spending his haunted, sleepless nights working out his grief in Facebook posts that he wants shared as widely as possible.

“Depression is a boogeyman and you never know when it will strike,” Mike Murphy said in an interview about his daughter Maddy.

“We thought she was doing well, and then all of a sudden, just like that.”

Mike and his wife, Mindy, say their family’s story is not a cautionary tale about missed warning signs or a lack of resources.

It’s a call for kindness and compassion for those who struggle with mental illness and the burdens they carry.

Those who hurt the most, they say, may be the ones you least suspect.

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Mike says he’s been pouring out his feelings, often in the wee hours when he cannot sleep, tormented by the sudden and unexplained loss of his daughter, who did not leave a note.

His most detailed Facebook post is called “Maddy’s story.” It’s a portrait of his daughter and her struggle with depression.

Already shared at least 5,000 times, the Murphys hope it will be shared even more and that is why they agreed to an interview request from CBC News.

They want people to talk about mental illness, even though it may be difficult and confusing, and even though there are no easy answers.

“I remember thinking to myself, I can’t understand this,” said Mindy, recalling the days when her daughter was in high school.

“Maddy has such a great life. She goes to a great school. She’s got so many friends.”

“I couldn’t understand what was making her depressed, but I’ve learned along the way, that’s not how it is.”

Maddy at 14

From an early age, Maddy showed great promise as an athlete.

She played with boys on the Kennebecasis Valley Minor Hockey Association’s Pee Wee AAA Rangers team and would later play for Rothesay Netherwood, an elite private school outside Saint John.

At the age of 15, one of her highlights was to play on the U-18 Team Atlantic in Calgary for the Canadian Women’s Nationals.

Maddy excelled in hockey and played for Team New Brunswick in Prince George, B.C., for the Canada Games in February 2015. (Mike Murphy/Facebook)

But at age 14, and seemingly overnight, Maddy developed symptoms of Tourette syndrome.

“She woke up and she just wasn’t right,” Mike said. “She was displaying tics and stuttering and couldn’t talk.”

He says his daughter felt ashamed and around this time, she started retreating from her parents and her sister and even her twin brother, to hole up in her room.

“We were walking on eggshells for quite a few years,” Mike said.

“We knew that one wrong move would set her off and she would go into that deep, dark hole.”

2 previous attempts 

The Murphys remember another turbulent time when Maddy was in Grade 11 and afraid of what would happen if she came out as a lesbian.

Maddy graduated from Rothesay Netherwood School in 2016 and went on to study at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. (Fundy Funeral Home)

“She was coming out of the closet, and she didn’t know how she was going to be accepted on that,” said Mike.

“I don’t think she was worried about what we’d have to say. I mean, holy cow, nowadays, who cares? We love her unconditionally no matter what. 

“I think it was about all her peers, and she kept that inside.”

Around this time, Maddy tried to commit suicide twice, in a short period, the Murphys say.

They responded by providing her with as much help as they could muster.

Maddy went to doctors and psychologists and had almost unlimited access to private counselling.

If she wanted to go four or five times a week, the Murphys made it happen.

They say Maddy was also on medication that seemed to work for her and with few side-effects.

They also say she became very self-aware and wasn’t afraid to ask for help when she felt her mood slipping.

We couldn’t have done any more. We couldn’t have tried any more.– Mindy Murphy, mother

“She didn’t have to call me to ask for an appointment,” said Mindy. “She was mature enough, and she knew.

“For us, I have peace knowing that we couldn’t have done any more. We couldn’t have tried any more.”

“And that’s what worries me, because if you asked what more we could have done, I don’t know what could have changed this.”

‘Thought she was doing really good’

After high school, Maddy took two years of an arts degree at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John and then decided to take a year off to figure out her future.

She had found a loving partner, and she and her girlfriend had moved into an apartment together.

Maddy was juggling four jobs and had just bought a car. (Submitted by Chyanne Murray)

Maddy had bought herself a little car and had paid a deposit on a golden retriever that would have been her emotional support animal. Although the dog was not yet born, she had named him Beckett.

She was working four jobs, at Rockwood Golf Course, Vito’s Restaurant, the Saint John Marina and Harbour Station.

She seemed happy, says Mike, and her Tourette’s tics had almost entirely subsided.

Mindy says she still talked to her daughter almost every day.

“Mindy and I thought she was doing really good there,” said Mike. “She seemed really happy. She was starting to get established in life.”

Mike says that’s why Maddy’s decision to take her own life has shaken them to the core. They say they had no warning.

“This caught us totally off guard, and I’m still dealing with that today. And I’ll be dealing with that for quite some time.”

Learning more about Maddy

The Murphys say they’re grateful to the first responders who kept Maddy alive Sept. 12 until she got to the Saint John Regional Hospital, as well as the medical staff who tended to her there.

Maddy was expecting to get an emotional support dog in January and had already named him Beckett. (Submitted by Chyanne Murray)

They say they got four extra days to spend with their daughter, and speak to her, even though she could not respond and may not have heard.

“We had those extra days to hold her, to hug her,” said Mike.

They also say it gave people a chance to say goodbye, and the Murphys were astonished by how many visitors came through the hospital room.

They were also surprised at how many people opened up about their own emotional struggles and histories with mental illness and how their daughter Maddy had been there for them.

The Murphys say this continued at the funeral home, where hundreds of people came to pay their respects.

“We were there for eight hours straight,” said Mike.

“That was the outpouring of support we had for this kid. That’s how many people she touched.”

‘Not one person would know’

The Murphys say they will go to counselling as soon as they’re ready.

They say their priority now is to get supports in place for Maddy’s sister and twin brother, who will also get counselling.

They’ve been driving Maddy’s car, lately. It makes them feel close to her.

They’ve also kept her phone. Sometimes, they look at videos that Maddy made with her friends.

“If you were to pick out the happiest kid in those videos, she would be the happiest,” said Mindy.

One recent evening, the Murphys went out for dinner, and it made them think how one never knows what another person is dealing with, or going through.

“Like all those people in the restaurant and not one person would know that we have just buried our daughter,” said Mindy.

“You just can’t judge anybody, and you just have to be kind.”

Need help?

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, the Crisis Services Canada website is a good resource. You can also call them toll-free at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645.

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Youth suicide prevention program aims to expand across Canada

Rising youth suicide rates have prompted doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to launch a clinical trial aimed at testing whether involving families in treatment could prevent such deaths across the country.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Daphne Korczak and Dr. Yaron Finkelstein, staff physician in pediatric emergency medicine, are part of a team behind a six-week program that includes adolescents who showed up at the hospital before or after they attempted to take their own lives.

The latest data from Statistics Canada from 2011 show 140 deaths due to intentional self-harm for boys and 58 for girls between the ages of 15 and 19. Considerably more cases involving youths trying to kill themselves do not end in death but lead to emergency-room visits.

“There has been an increasing trend among youth in the number of hospitalizations for intentional self-harm over the past five years, the bulk of which can be attributed to a 102-per-cent increase for girls since 2009-2010,” Stats Can says. “For girls age 10 to 17, intentional self-harm make up 45 per cent of all injury hospitalizations in 2013-2014.”

Finkelstein said an urgent response is needed because in the last two years at Sick Kids alone there has been a 66-per-cent increase in overall youth mental health cases, adding that’s a risk for suicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15 to 35, after unintentional injury.

“What we’re trying here is to fill an important void in suicide prevention in Canada, really with the hope that we can scale up, first to other centres and hopefully lead to forming a national suicide prevention program. We so need it.”

The clinical study at Sick Kids is halfway through recruiting 128 participants and their families for a program that incorporates several therapies.

Korczak said while rigorous randomized clinical trials are typically done to test drugs and medical devices for example, the same “gold standard” strategy is being used for the current trial, which involves two groups of adolescents and families: those involved in therapy and those who are contacted by phone about using resources in their community.

“We wanted to offer kids and families a standardized treatment so that it didn’t really matter who the staff was and who was working with the child and family that day or whether they were admitted on a weekend or a weekday,” she said, adding most children who come to an emergency room after harming themselves or with suicide-related concerns are not admitted.

High school students make a hand-drawn poster during Sources of Strength’s suicide prevention workshop in Juneau, Alaska in 2012. (Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire/Associated Press)

“For decades people have been trying to find a program for communities and schools that works and unfortunately there are several programs, many of which have not been evaluated with respect to their outcomes and many of which have not shown benefit in reducing suicide risk and death by suicide,” Korczak said.

Shock to parents’ emotional system

Abby Couture, 20, was admitted from the emergency room to the intensive care unit at Kingston General Hospital in Ontario at age 14 for severe anxiety, anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder after waiting eight months for a referral for mental health services.

Couture said she had suicidal thoughts during her “darkest time” after leaving the hospital, when she suffered through a panic attack and depression.

“At that point it was just mainly my mom and I trying to figure this out through the help of a therapist she was able to get through her own network,” said Couture, who is now in the fourth year of her bachelor of arts and science degrees at McGill University in Montreal.

She spent another year on a wait list before participating in a peer support group, she said.

Couture said a therapy program involving adolescents and their parents would be extremely beneficial, even for families to learn about what types of events could trigger a mental health episode for their child and to get much-needed support.

As part of her advocacy work, Carol Todd will speak to high school students in Los Angeles this week about social media and online exploitation. Todd’s daughter, Amanda, killed herself in 2012. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

“Frankly, it can be a very daunting thing for a parent to have to not only deal with the trauma of trying to cope and take care of their kid, which can be a shock to their emotional system, but also trying to learn the therapy and resources to best support them.”

Carol Todd of Port Coquitlam, B.C., said her daughter Amanda Todd was in the emergency department three times in 2012 after drinking bleach, trying to overdose on her anti-depressants and cutting herself to the point that the bleeding wouldn’t stop.

Todd was 15 when she killed herself in October 2012, soon after her last visit to the ER.

Getting therapy in a program involving her daughter would have been invaluable in helping her understand her needs instead of trying to navigate a system with few resources and long wait lists, Todd said.

She will be in Los Angeles this week to speak to high school students about social media and online exploitation and at a hospital conference on suicide in the city as part of her advocacy work.

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | crisisservicescanada.ca (chat).

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553).

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), www.kidshelpphone.ca (live chat counselling).

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.

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