A study into Manitoba youth connected to child welfare shows that almost three-quarters of young suicide victims are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

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A study into Manitoba youth connected to child welfare shows that almost three-quarters of young suicide victims are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

A report from the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) analyzed the histories of 50 youth who died by suicide in Manitoba from 2009 to 2013, compared with a control group of 100 other youths. All youths in the study had some contact with the child welfare system.



Data revealed that nearly all the youths show similar risk factors for suicide, according to the report by the OCA with University of Manitoba researchers released Thursday.

That means most kids who make contact with the child welfare system are exposed to the same high-risk situations suicide victims experience, said Darlene MacDonald, Manitoba’s Children’s Advocate.

"The bottom line is they were very very similar," MacDonald said. "What stood out for us was the prevalence of some of the factors that were involved. For instance, whether they had family members who died by suicide, whether they were involved in the criminal justice system, poor school attendance, hospitalization, alcohol or substance misuse."

When it came to dealing with addictions, 74 per cent of youth who committed suicide were known to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, compared with 41 per cent in the control group. In the area of crime, 68 per cent of youths who died by suicide had been involved with the justice system; 33 per cent of youth in child welfare care had been in trouble with the law. And, while 26 per cent of youths in care studied expressed a desire to die, 64 per cent of youth who died had previously talked about their feelings with child welfare professionals.

But, above all, previous suicide attempts trump the other risk factors.

"One researcher did say that actually looking at attempts of suicide is probably the biggest factor or biggest risk involved in someone actually dying by suicide," MacDonald said.

The report displays the findings of phase two of a multi-year study, which began in 2014. The first phase analyzed the risk factors the 50 youth who died by suicide in Manitoba experienced. The third and final phase is underway and focuses on the development of evidence-informed resources to support those reaching out to at-risk youth, most of whom are between 12 and 17.

Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the findings weren’t surprising to her.

In March, Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Cross Lake, in northern Manitoba, declared a state of emergency after an alarming increase in suicide rates among youth there. Morgan said she believes the youth studied in the report experience the same thing as do the youths attempting suicide in Pimicikamak

"Some of those root causes to some of those factors are the disconnect from family and the disconnect from their cultural identity," she said.

"There is definitely a crisis around suicide, particularly in northern communities. There has to be a consolidated effort to bring in support services to these communities by the way of culturally appropriate programming."

That means being more innovative when it comes to resources and information for youths, MacDonald said.

"The school is doing an excellent job with their prevention information and information in regards to suicide, however a lot of these children aren’t attending schools," MacDonald said. "Both phase one and two showed us we have to get out there more."

MacDonald also said she’s hopeful the new provincial government, which some worry will make cuts to social programs, will take notice of the report’s findings.

"We would certainly hope that the government is onboard," she said. "I would certainly be hopeful that these important resources, particularly for our youth, will not be cut and hopefully expanded."

Scott Fielding, Manitoba’s minister of families, said in an email statement the government will take time to look at the report.

"I want to thank the Office of the Children’s Advocate for their work in the service of our most vulnerable youth," the statement read. "We will be reviewing this report. Our government is committed to developing a comprehensive mental health strategy, which will include mental health and addictions services that are co-ordinated with our community partners and accessible to those most vulnerable."

Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Thursday that he will not comment until he has read the report.