Globe editorial: The unspoken problem in Pikangikum (Globe and Mail – July 26, 2017)

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said last week of the First Nations community of Pikangikum, “that it’s a community in crisis.” With all due respect to Dr. Hoskins, it would require willful blindness to arrive at any other conclusion.

Pikangikum, a remote Ojibwa community of about 2,800 in northwestern Ontario, has been in a state of crisis for decades. In 2000, a British sociologist calculated that it had the world’s highest suicide rate, at 213 suicides per 100,000 people.

In 2012, Maclean’s magazine famously dubbed it “the suicide capital of the world,” after the rate reached 250 per 100,000 people. Many more have died by suicide since then, the latest being four youths this month, including two 12-year-olds.

Dr. Hoskins responded to the most recent deaths by announcing that the Ontario government will send 20 mental-health workers to the community, to reinforce the eight already there. Ottawa is considering sending the Armed Forces to put up tents or other temporary facilities in which to hold the counselling sessions.

The community will soon have one mental-health worker for every 100 residents, and it may still not be enough. Because, while counselling can save lives, it can’t do anything about the underlying causes of Pikangikum’s distress.

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