National Chief Atleo “We must come together to stop the tragic loss of life due to despair and loss of hope…”

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Atleo

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo

OTTAWA – “We must come together to stop the tragic loss of life due to despair and loss of hope, and focus on supporting and empowering the potential among our peoples,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo. “The staggering statistics of suicide rates among First Nations must compel concrete action and compassion within our communities and in our work with partners across every sector of Canadian society. Our young people must be supported to fulfill their dreams. Solutions must be built at the community level grounded in our cultures to protect and advance wellness for all families”.

Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo expressed support for community-based suicide prevention plans, including programs, initiatives and opportunities that empower and promote healthy living and education among First Nations youth.

As recognized by the World Health Organization, World Suicide Prevention Day promotes global commitment and action to prevent suicide, raising awareness that suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death. Suicide rates vary considerably between First Nation communities, however as cited by Health Canada via the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy.

The First Nations youth suicide rate is approximately 5-7 times higher than overall rates in Canada.

“First Nations are advancing preventative strategies, including strengthening a strong sense of identity, meaning and purpose within and among our young people, but there is much more work to be done and we cannot do it alone,” said National Chief Atleo. “First Nations want to work with all groups to strengthen and facilitate linkages within and across governments to support the development and implementation of community-based suicide prevention plans and to improve crisis response efforts. I strongly urge governments to work collaboratively with First Nations to design comprehensive, holistic and coordinated approaches to mental health and substance abuse services that incorporates a full continuum of care with a focus on immediate and long-term solutions based on need”.

AFN, together with Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and community mental health leaders are working toward the development of a First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework. This collaborative work involves a comprehensive mapping of existing mental health and addictions programming, including those focused on First Nations suicide prevention and awareness and will culminate in the drafting of a comprehensive framework of mental wellness services. This builds from the work already done by the First Nations and Inuit Mental Wellness Advisory Committee.

Last fall the AFN hosted a national Youth Mental Wellness Forum aimed at supporting and enhancing youth empowerment and resiliency, specifically referencing the importance of a 2011 report by the Ontario Chief Coroner regarding youth suicides in Pikangikum First Nation. The report included a total of 100 recommendations in the areas of education, policing, child welfare and health care, with a particular focus on the development of suicide prevention strategies.

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