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The Globe and Mail

Bob Rae calls for national suicide prevention strategy

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 28, 2011

Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters

Members of Parliament have set aside a focus on Canada's financial health to debate the nation's mental health.

The Liberals are calling for a national suicide-prevention strategy and devoted their opposition day Tuesday in the House of Commons to highlight the issue.

Liberal Leader Bob Rae has conceded he's struggled with depression in the past and says there has been progress in how Canadians speak about mental illness. He says treatment has improved as well.

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On Tuesday, Mr. Rae wrote an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail highlighting the need for a national strategy for suicide prevention. He noted that each day, 10 Canadians take their own lives, a per-capita rate three times that of the rate in the United States.

Although Conservative MPs acknowledged the seriousness of the issue, they say the government is already taking action.

They pointed to the creation of the Mental Health Commission, which is supposed to report back with a strategy on mental illness by 2012.

But Mr. Rae says no one can say they've done enough when it comes to preventing suicide.

MPs on all sides used the debate to highlight high rates of suicide among young Canadians and aboriginals.

Last month, The Globe began a series examining the agonizing enigma of suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in Canada. The series coincided with the first month of the school year, a particularly high-risk time for vulnerable youth.

The Globe series profiled families who are challenging the stigma of suicide and are beginning to defy the long-held fear that simply saying the word will cause more deaths to occur.

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In Carleton Place, Ont., last month, a fundraising run was held in the name of Brett Pearson, a teenager who killed himself in 2006, and a band played in a field outside the high school afterward so people could linger – an event hard to imagine even five years ago.

"We're not going to sit in silence," said Shelly Graham, who joined the run. Her son, Jesse, killed himself as a teen. "That's why kids are dying."

This week, politicians also spoke of former Saskatchewan Tory MP Dave Batters, who killed himself in 2009.

His family is now active in suicide prevention as is the family of NHL coach Luke Richardson, whose daughter killed herself last year.

Mr. Rae says Parliament needs to follow those examples and take a lead role, especially among the military and natives, which are federal responsibilities.

The Canadian Press with a report from Carys Mills

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