Alberta suicide rate dropped dramatically in 2016

Alberta suicide rate dropped dramatically in 2016

The suicide rate in Alberta dropped dramatically last year after a spike in 2015 that coincided with the worst of the economic downturn, the latest figures show.

Preliminary numbers show 460 Albertans died by suicide in 2016.

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That's down 30.5 per cent from the year before, when 662 Albertans died by suicide, and it's the lowest number in a decade, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary.

"It's obviously a positive thing from our perspective," said Robert Olson of the suicide prevention centre.

"One possible explanation is because of the reduction of stigma towards suicide and mental health in general. They're seeking help more readily than they used to."

But Olson said there's still a lot of progress to be made.

"Even though the numbers are lower this year than they were last year, Alberta has really high numbers in comparison with the rest of the country," he said.

Better awareness, less stigma

At the Distress Centre Calgary, director of operations Jerilyn Dressler says all the attention garnered by the high suicide rates at the height of the economic downturn helped raise awareness.

"We are seeing steady increases ... in the number of people who are accessing our crisis services," she said. 

"This is a positive thing. Our increases are beyond what we would expect based on population growth. So we do hope people are more willing or more likely to reach out for support."

Online help

Dressler says people are twice as likely to discuss suicide through the centre's online chat program as they are by phone.

"It's a low barrier access point. People are very comfortable online. It's easier to talk about these issues online rather than across from someone face to face," she said.

- Anyone who is struggling with mental health concerns or having thoughts of suicide can contact the Calgary Distress Centre's 24-hour Crisis line 403-266-HELP or reach the centre online.

And the centre is expanding the hours it offers crisis chat and text as a result.

"There was a lot of attention in 2015 around the high increase in the rates of suicide across Alberta. There was a lot of attention and we had a mental health review that was initiated by the province. And I think this has raised a lot of awareness," Dressler said.

"So that discussion, that ongoing conversation, has opened the door, if you will, to people discussing their mental health concerns and thoughts of suicide."

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