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The suicide rate in Alberta, Canada’s once thriving oil province, is soaring this year as persistently low oil prices lead to layoffs throughout the country’s energy industry.
“This is staggering,” said Mara Grunau, the executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary. “It’s far more, far exceeds anything we would ever have expected, and we would never have expected to see this much this soon.”
In the first six months of 2014, Alberta had 252 suicides, the Centre reports. In the same period this year, the latest for which such statistics are available, there were 327 suicides. If that rate holds up to the end of the year, the province could suffer 654 suicides, well above the annual average of 500 for Alberta.
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Meanwhile, the province’s energy industry reports having laid off more than 40,000 employees so far this year. David Kirby, a counselor at the Calgary Distress Centre, tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that this has led to a change in tone and frequency of calls to his office’s distress line. He says callers’ problems are more complex than usual and requests for counseling services is up by 80 percent.
“There might be substance abuse issues. There might be imminent financial collapse,” Kirby said. “Anxiety, depression. Relationship conflict, maybe concurrent domestic violence. So there are many more things that people are trying to juggle, I think, at the same time.”
Kirby added, “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.”
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A co-worker of Kirby, Nancy Bergeron, says she has answered the Distress Centre’s distress line for several years, and 2015 is clearly the busiest and most wrenching. “People are just at wit’s end, and they’re contemplating [suicide], right?” she asks rhetorically.
Suicide-prevention centers aren’t the only organizations aware of the profound impact Alberta’s economy is having on its residents. Most of the major oil companies in the province, mindful of these personal struggles, have canceled their Christmas parties.
And the University of Calgary, whose students are increasingly taking on multiple jobs to help pay for their education, reports a 29 percent rise in requests for counseling. As a result it’s mounted a mental-health assistance campaign available to all students.
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Grunau, however, is optimistic the trend can be curbed as the province has increased its budget for mental health by $10 million two months ago. “In the budget we saw money specifically earmarked for mental health, and we’re hoping that some of it will be directly put into suicide prevention.”
That could mean suicide-prevention counselors such as Kirby and Bergeron may have more resources to help their clients. As Bergeron put it, “We want to be able to interject and kind of break that thought process and say, ‘Hey, you know what? There’s other things. You don’t have to end your life.’ ”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com