Saskatchewan set a new record for suicides in one year in 2022 with 243 so far, while a report from the coroners service aims for insight.

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We’ve known for some time that Saskatchewan’s suicide rate ranks above the national average, but it’s a problem that may be getting worse.

The province set a new high mark for suicides in one calendar year in 2022 with 243, topping the previous record of 241 set in 2018. But the 2022 number could still rise, since coroner’s office investigations into some deaths have not yet been completed.

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The number of confirmed suicides last year has already hit 208 with cases still ongoing, signalling a concerning trend since suicides topped 200 for the first time in 2018. Provincial suicides averaged 154.1 over the previous 10 years. Twelve years ago, there were only 128.

Trends can be difficult to track over the last five years, given the pandemic disruption, but confirmed 2020 suicides dropped during the first year of COVID-19 to 204, the lowest since 2017. That rose to 213 in 2021, followed by the big 2022 spike.

Some claimed, contrary to proof, that pandemic restrictions led to an increase in suicides, although in Saskatchewan, the new record was set in 2022, the year when all COVID-19 measures were removed in February.

Last year, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service released a report aiming to shed more light on suicides in the province, a topic that is often avoided due to shame and stigma.

The report examines the 864 confirmed suicides from 2018 to 2021 and it’s both enlightening and concerning.

Saskatchewan’s suicide rate per 100,000 people trends well above the national rate. Of the four years studied, this divide was largest in 2018 when Saskatchewan’s rate was 20.6 and the national rate was 12.3. That gap narrowed to 16.6 (Saskatchewan) and 10.9 (national) in 2020. But the chasm grew again to 17.5 and 9.9 in 2021.

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The report raises the question of whether the pandemic’s effect on suicide rates was delayed and urges “further investigation” to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and suicide rates. That seems unlikely from a provincial government that would rather pretend the pandemic never happened.

The highest number of deaths by suicide happened in May, although in three of the years studied a different month ranked on top. Monday was the most common day for suicides; Tuesday was the least common.

Three-quarters of those who died by suicide were men and their median age was 40. For women, the median age was 29.

Most of those who ended their own lives were white (56.7 per cent), although 35 per cent were Indigenous, highlighting a much bigger problem since Indigenous people represent just 17 per cent of the province’s population.

Visible minorities make up 14 per cent of Saskatchewan’s people, but just 2.6 per cent of suicides.

Hanging accounts for 57 per cent of suicides, followed by firearms at 19 per cent and toxicity at 11 per cent. Among Indigenous people who died by suicide, 76 per cent were hangings.

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The most common location for suicide was the person’s home (61 per cent), followed by medical facilities (13 per cent) and public areas (12 per cent). These numbers do not include medically assisted deaths.

In 31 per cent of cases, a suicide note was found at the location of the suicide. Coroners did not identify any mental health history in 60 per cent of cases, but 58 per cent were found to have a history of self-harm, suicidal ideation, disclosure and/or attempts.

Suicides were spread out fairly evenly across the province, with about a third in the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, a third in communities with 1,000 to 100,000 people and a third in communities with fewer than 1,000 people.

The report, which marked the first of its kind in Saskatchewan, was intended to provide insight into a “significant public health concern.”

The coroners service hopes the analysis sparks further discussion and research and ultimately results in policies that focus on mental health support and suicide prevention.

Surely we can no longer ignore this crisis.

Phil Tank is the digital opinion editor at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566), Saskatoon Mobile Crisis (306-933-6200), Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit (306-764-1011), Regina Mobile Crisis Services (306-525-5333) or the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which provides culturally competent crisis intervention counselling support for Indigenous peoples (1-855-242-3310).

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