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When Canadian children and youth struggle with self-harm and thoughts of suicide, they increasingly turn to emergency rooms for help. Instead of getting it, many go home to linger on long wait lists and with no follow-up plan for the care they do receive.

But there are new ways to deliver better care – solutions that can save lives. Canada remains the only G8 country without a national suicide strategy that sets standards for care and targets to reach. The need for such a strategy is more urgent than ever during this pandemic, which has left many unemployed, isolated or unable to access the social supports they need. In a Globe and Mail series, Erin Anderssen explores what that strategy would look like and how a better mental health system could help these young patients get the help they need.

This is a series about solutions. How can Canada set new standards for youth suicide care? What is already working, both here and around the world? The Globe explores how families, doctors, researchers and communities are trying to create a better mental health system.

Story continues below advertisement


Anthony’s story

Bernie Maughn shows a tattoo of her daughter Michaela's late friend Anthony Nauss, who named himself after Tony Stark, Iron Man's alter ego.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

In the past 10 years, the number of young Canadians seeking help for a mental health issues in one the country’s emergency departments has nearly doubled. Many are teenagers and young adults who return again and again, seeking help for self-harm or suicidal behaviour. One of them was Anthony Nauss, a Nova Scotia student who died by suicide in 2018.

In this story, the result of interviews with more than two dozen families, The Globe explores where the system fell short in Anthony’s case and others like it, and how a better-designed standard of care could ensure young people in crisis get treatment before it’s too late.


A better emergency room

Madison Croskery of North Bay was locked in a suicide-watch room at a local hospital.

Gino Donato/The Globe and Mail

Madison Croskery of North Bay, Ont., remembers being traumatized when she was 16 and came to the emergency room seeking help for suicidal thoughts. Her suicide-watch room was locked, with harsh, bright lights and a security guard outside.

That’s not the kind of experience she’d get in an emPath unit, a new model of emergency room introduced at an increasing number of U.S. hospitals. They have no locked rooms, and instead of waiting anxiously in an uncomfortable plastic chair, visitors have recliners and tables with board games. One Ontario hospital is proposing to be the first in Canada to have an emPath.


For future discussion

In later instalments, other questions to consider include:

  • When someone tries to kill themselves, one simple, inexpensive and effective next step is what’s called a caring contact – having a mental health clinician checks in on the patient afterward. The United States, Australia and some European countries have successfully tested this. Where do such efforts stand in Canada?
  • Parenthood and clinical psychology are very different things, but training parents to better support children with suicidal thoughts is a proven way to improve care and potentially save lives. What kinds of programs are available for this sort of training?


Need some help?

If you need professional counselling right now or are having thoughts of suicide, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, text 686868, or visit kidshelpphone.ca, or Crisis Service Canada at 1-833-456-4566, crisisservicescanada.ca.


More reading

Even when COVID-19 is beaten, the stress and depression of the pandemic will still be with us. How do we recover?

Half of Canadians have too few local psychiatrists, or none at all. How can we mend the mental-health gap?

Canada grapples with challenge of drawing psychiatrists to small towns from big cities

Forced to the frontlines of mental health: Police have become the new first responders for vulnerable Canadians



Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

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