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Health

Fifteen military suicides reported in 2018 despite new prevention strategy

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  • OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has promised to redouble efforts to prevent suicide in the Canadian Forces after new figures showed more than a dozen members of the military took their own lives last year.

    The deaths coincided with new services and supports aimed at preventing such tragedies, underlining the complexity of the challenge facing the military and government.

    Fifteen Canadian Forces members killed themselves in 2018, according to the Department of National Defence.

    That was one fewer than the previous year and represented the fourth year in a row in which the number of military suicides declined since a rash of suicides in 2013 cast a spotlight on the issue.

    It nonetheless fell short of a breakthrough after the National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada unveiled a new suicide-prevention strategy in late 2017.

    The strategy included promises to improve the services and support available to current military members and veterans in the hopes of increasing awareness and reducing the number of suicides in both populations.

    Defence Department spokesman Derek Abma said there has been “an impressive amount of work” done to better support the mental health of military members and their families since the strategy was launched.

    That includes adding more medical staff, training personnel on how to respond if someone shows warning signs for suicide and introducing new measures to ease the transition to civilian life for those leaving the Forces.

    Sajjan, however, admitted in a statement on Wednesday that “we must always strive to do better,” adding: “Every time we lose a member of our Canadian Armed Forces to suicide, it is felt by us all. One suicide is too many.

    “While there is no simple solution or easy answer, we will continue to evolve and improve the strategy as we expand our understanding of suicide and mental health and move forward on implementing solutions.”

    Of the 15 military personnel who died by suicide last year, 13 were full-time members while the other two were reservists. The figures do not say how many were men or women.

    While the Canadian Forces for years resisted suggestions service members were more at risk of suicide than the general public, a landmark study from Veterans Affairs Canada last year suggested the opposite.

    The results, based on a comprehensive review of records from 1976 to 2012, showed that the risk of suicide among male veterans of all ages was 36 per cent higher than in men who had never served in the Canadian military.

    Even more worrying was that the risk was significantly higher among younger male veterans, with those under 25 being 242 per cent more likely to kill themselves than non-veterans of the same age.

    The risk among female veterans was also found to be alarmingly high: 81 per cent greater than for women who hadn’t served. Age was not found to be as significant a factor when it came to female veterans.

    At the same time, more than 155 active service members have taken their own lives since 2010. That nearly equals the 158 killed while serving in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014.

    National Defence’s suicide-prevention strategy was endorsed by a variety of groups, including the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

    Some veterans’ groups and advocates, however, remained unsure at the time about how it would be implemented.

    —Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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    Health

    Feds have ‘significant concern’ about impact of economic shocks on indebted

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  • OTTAWA — In the lead up to his pre-election budget, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has been alerted by his department that Canadians’ heavy debts have made abrupt shocks to incomes, house prices or interest rates a “significant concern,” according to internal documents.

    On March 19, Morneau will release the Liberal government’s final budget before the October federal election. He’s underlined several issues expected to be addressed in the document, including prescription-drug costs, skills training for workers and support for seniors. 

    Morneau’s also hinted changes are on the way to help make home-buying more accessible for millennials, a generation of people now in their mid-20s to late 30s.

    But with concerns about Canadians’ debt levels, it’s unclear how far the government will go.

    Internally, briefing documents show Morneau’s been told “the high level of debt of Canadian households remains a key domestic risk,” even though rising interest rates have helped slow private borrowing and stricter policies have made mortgages less risky for lenders.

    Last November, when budget preparations were likely well underway, a Finance Department briefing addressed to Morneau warned of “dynamics” that could have important implications for the economy in late 2018 and into 2019.

    Among the issues, officials urged him to be mindful of Canadians’ stretched finances.

    “How households would respond if the Canadian economy were suddenly hit with a shock to incomes, house prices or interest rates, given higher debt levels, is a significant concern,” said the Nov. 16 note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

    Industry has pressed Ottawa to ease stress tests that have tightened mortgage qualification rules and, as a result, cooled housing markets.

    The federal changes, combined with provincial and municipal guidelines, were brought in to improve the quality of mortgage debt and to lower risks to the broader economy.

    Asked Friday about pressure to loosen the stress tests, Morneau said he had nothing new to announce about them and that they were needed for a reason.

    “We wanted to make sure that the market was stable, we wanted to make sure that prices were not escalating in some markets at a pace that was unsustainable,” Morneau told reporters in Toronto following his pre-budget meeting with private-sector economists.

    When it comes to helping more young people buy property, Paul Taylor, CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada, has said he’s made recommendations to federal officials that they reintroduce insurance on 30-year mortgages as a targeted way to help people at the lower end. Taylor has also argued the stress tests have succeeded in taking some of the froth out of the market and he believes Ottawa should loosen them now.

    The stronger economy has encouraged the Bank of Canada to hike interest rates five times since 2017 to its current level of 1.75 per cent.

    Governor Stephen Poloz said Thursday that the rate will keep rising — or normalizing — over time to somewhere between 2.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent. But he noted the path is “highly uncertain” because of unknowns related to global trade, business investment and household debt.

    Poloz was asked by reporters in Montreal whether the time had come to dial back the stress tests to help more people, including millennials, enter the market.

    He said that before the tests were brought in house prices were rising 10 or 15 per cent per year in some markets, which represents a much faster pace than rate increases. The central bank, he added, has been closely watching the data, but it’s still early since the latest rule change has barely been in force for a year.

    “I can tell you that underwriting of mortgages, the quality, has improved significantly and that matters a lot because the vulnerability of the economy to a normalization of interest rates was becoming extremely high,” Poloz said.

    When it comes to government debt, a preliminary analysis released Friday by Morneau’s department said Ottawa ran a surplus of $300 million through the first nine months of 2018-19. In comparison, Ottawa posted a deficit of $8.9 billion between April and December in 2017-18.

    The Liberals have predicted the government will post a shortfall this fiscal year of $18.1 billion. With just three months left in 2018-19, the final federal balance sheet will likely look far different.

    Pierre-Olivier Herbert, a spokesman for Morneau, said in an email Friday that the fiscal monitor’s results can be volatile and tend to be revised. He stressed it’s not uncommon to see movements in the budgetary balance in any given month.

    Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press




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    Alberta

    As Hair Massacure Returns for Another Year, Here’s A Moving Look at How it Began

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  • On February 22, 2019, thousands of heads will be shaved in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy.

    People will gather once again at the Toyota Mayfield Ice Palace at West Edmonton Mall to collectively shave their heads, raising money in support of Albertans facing cancer.

    The Hair Massacure is founded, supported and organized by The MacDonald Family, in honour of their daughter Kali, a childhood cancer survivor.

    The MacDonald family partners once again with the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and supports Terry Fox Profyle, a Pediatric cancer research project.

    With the support of their partners, the family plans to scale Hair Massacure to the national level with the support of the Children’s Wish Foundation, continuing to raise funding for pediatric cancer research and for children with life threatening illnesses.

    Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada

    Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada is a 100% Canadian charity that grants the single-most heartfelt wishes of Canadian children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Every wish is as unique as the child making it.  In Alberta and the NWT, we grant a Wish every three days and approve around 180 new Wishes each year. Wish referrals can be made by anyone who has a child in their lives between the ages of 3-17 and meets the medical criteria. Become a supporter of the largest Wish granting organization in Canada today!

    Terry Fox Profyle

    For the first time in Canadian history, more than 30 pediatric cancer research and funding organizations have joined forces through Terry Fox PROFYLE, a pan-Canadian project to give children, adolescents and young adults who are out of conventional treatment options another chance to beat their cancer. Short for PRecision Oncology For Young peopLE, the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) and these research and funding partners are working and fundraising together under a unique partnership that to date is providing a total of $16.4 million to molecularly profile the tumours of these patients, no matter where they live in Canada. For example, if Terry Fox had been diagnosed with cancer today, he would have been eligible for PROFYLE when the tumour returned and spread to his lungs. A $5-million investment by TFRI is the catalyst bringing together top scientists and clinicians, research centres, cancer charities and foundations at children’s hospitals across the country to create new hope for young people who need it the most.

    Video produced by Storyteller Productions .


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