Alberta’s Suicide Rates Are Up 30 Percent Amid Oil Patch Crisis

"More Albertans die by suicide every year than they do in fatal car collisions."

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Dec 8 2015, 5:00am

Fort McMurray. Photo via Flickr user sbamueller

Albertans are killing themselves at an alarming rate.

There were 327 suicides in the province from January to June of this year, up from 252 in the same time period in 2014—a 30 percent increase, according to data from the Chief Medical Examiner.

"This is awful. It is alarming," Mara Grunau, executive director of the Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention told VICE.

"More Albertans die by suicide every year than they do in fatal car collisions."

While Grunau was hesitant to point to one cause, she believes the suicides may be linked to the massive downturn in Alberta's energy sector as well as the catastrophic floods in 2013.

"When you have one big awful thing, a rise in unemployment, economic breakdown, natural disaster, we will see a rise in the suicide rate but there's usually a delay," she said. "It hasn't been great here for a while."

According to the province, 18,006 workers were laid off in 2015, 78 percent of whom worked in the oil and gas industry. In comparison, the total job losses for 2013 and 2014 combined was 11,694. More cuts are expected in 2016. As a result, there's been a huge surge in the number of people on employment insurance, up 99 percent (28,830 recipients) year-over-year from September. In that month alone, Alberta saw a 9.1 percent jump in EI (unemployment) benefits.

David Kirby, a counselor with the Calgary Distress Centre, told the CBC demand for counseling is up by 80 percent and that coexisting conditions such as substance abuse are playing a role in the crisis. Three out of four people who commit suicide are men.

"For me it says something really about the horrible human impact of what's happening in the economy with the recession and the real felt effect, the real suffering, and the real struggle that people are experiencing," he said.

According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, there's an average of 500 suicides per year in Alberta. If the trend continues, that number could reach 650 by the end of the year.

Grunau said she's hopeful the province's mental health review, to be tabled January, will address the issue.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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