More training, research needed to curb suicides, Horizon Health official says

A Horizon Health specialist in suicide prevention says more "non-conforming ways" are needed to reach out to people suffering from a mental illness and in danger of committing suicide.

Gregory Zed, the mental health manager with the Horizon network in Sussex, was commenting on a recent increase in suicides in Moncton.

Information from the provincial coroner's office shows 40 people took their own lives in the Moncton area in 2016, while in previous years the numbers ranged between the low 20s and low 30s.

The coroner's office said the 2016 numbers are subject to change as investigations conclude.

Zed said there is no apparent reason why the numbers in Moncton would have spiked last year, though they may reflect a slight in rise in population.

But he said only a fragment of people who are mentally ill in New Brunswick are directed or find their way to mental health services. Eighty per cent of people who need care suffer alone.

"What we're actually seeing is a number of people who have not been engaged in the formal system," he said.

"And that feeds into the fact that individuals are feeling isolated, lonely, perhaps hopeless and helpless, and they don't reach out and are not connected."

More training, research needed

While the conversation about mental health has picked up in recent years, most notably on social media, in films and in the news, Zed said more needs to be done to engage employers and communities to help people.

For example, he said, more family physicians could be trained to detect mental illness, so they can direct patients to  services.

He also called for more research into treating different mental illnesses.

"Research and treatment has to be at the forefront in the minds of policy makers to ensure we are providing the most effective treatment in situations like this," he says.

"Our real challenge in the province of New Brunswick as a community is how can we as a society a) inform the general public that help is available and b) what creative skills do we need to engage people?"

Lack of access not always at fault 

Zed added that he does not believe long wait times or limited access to mental health professionals can always be blamed for higher suicide rates in the province.

He was referring to Campbellton and Edmundston, which recorded some of the highest rates of suicides in recent years.

Services in northern New Brunswick may be somewhat limited compared to major cities but "adequate services are in place," Zed said.

He also said economic factors are not always at work when suicide numbers go up. 

Following the shutdown of PotashCorp's Sussex mine, "I've not seen a tsunami of issues associated with grief, hopelessness, helplessness," he said.

"In fact, if anything, I've seen resilience."