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Increase in Alberta’s suicide rate blamed on ailing oil industry

Alberta’s Chief Medical Examiner says suicide rates in the province climbed by 30 per cent in the first half of 2015. The spike from 252 between January and June of 2014 to 327 in 2015 is being attributed to mass layoffs in the oil patch.

Suicide Prevention Resource Centre Executive Director Gladys Blackmore says it is not uncommon to see an increase in suicide rates when there is significant job layoffs. She says there is already an uneven ratio for male to female suicide rates, and that gap may grow more given the largely male workforce employed in the oil patch.

“Men tend to die by suicide generally 3-to-1 compared to women and in northern Alberta those numbers are actually 10-to-1. When you have a huge number of men in Fort McMurray and a huge number of men on this side of the province as well, we’re going to see some change in suicide numbers.”

It’s believed that if the trend for suicide continued beyond June in 2015, the province could be on track for as many as 654 suicides this year. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, there is an average of 500 a year in the province.

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The SPRC offers both a weekly support group for men as well as a program for men at risk. Blackmore says the weekly men’s support group has seen a bit of an uptick in attendance in the last few months, and urges anyone who may be feeling overwhelmed by stress or anxiety to reach out to the the resource centre if they feel they need help.

Blackmore says another impact the crunch being felt in the oil patch also means they have had less opportunity to provide information to employees on how to recognize signs of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in co-workers.

“The people that are most likely to notice that there’s an issue are the people we want to talk to. What we have noticed is as there have been job layoffs, companies have less staff available and they are asking us in less often. We feel that’s a really bad thing. We would really like them to increase the amount of presentations we do rather than decrease them.”

Last month alone nearly 15,000 jobs were lost in Alberta, which amounts to roughly 41 per cent of the total jobs lost Canada wide in November.

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