Self-Harm Visits to Emergency Room (ER) a Greater Problem in Waterloo Region Than Across Province

June 12, 2010
By Johanna Weidner, Record staff

WATERLOO REGION – People intentionally hurt themselves in this area far
more than across most of the province, ranking Waterloo Wellington third worst
after the exceptionally high rates in Northern Ontario, according to a recent

The disturbing statistics about the elevated rate of emergency room visits
for intentional self harm locally were highlighted in the recently released
annual report from the Ontario Health Quality Council.

“Obviously it’s concerning,” said Dr. Wilson Lit, chief clinical
officer and chief of staff at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph.

“We’re higher than the average, and when that happens we want to
look at why.”

Within the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network, the rate of
emergency room visits for intentional self-harm was 123 per 100,000 people
in 2008-2009.

That compares to the provincial average of 88.

Only two other of Ontario’s 14 health networks reporter higher rates –
both in the far north parts of the province where suicide is a common tragedy
native Canadian populations. There, the rate was 160 and 228. The lowest in
the province was 47.

Locally, a person dies of suicide every week.

Mental health and addiction services have been identified as priority for the
area’s health network.

“We absolutely will have to be looking at this,” said Lit, who is
part of the team providing specialized psychiatric mental health and addiction treatment
at Homewood.

A report by the network earlier this year found a lack of mental health and
addiction services in rural areas, which Lit said may affect the rate of self-harm.

Also there are many young families in the area, and adolescents have higher
rates of self-injury while there’s a shortage of support services for struggling
children. That’s the same situation for adults, too.

Many people still don’t have family doctors, who are usually the first
health care professional a person approaches for help, Lit said.

The issue of mental health is complex, depending on not just health care services
but also community demographics and a range of social services, with self-harm
being only one part of a larger picture.

“We have a growing population and lots of needs,” Lit said.

He’s part of the Waterloo Wellington Addiction and Mental Health Network,
which is working to identify priority areas to help people who are falling through
the cracks and ending up in emergency departments after hurting themselves.

“We will start to look at this in a more systematic way,” he said.

The statistics on self-harm sadden Dena Moitoso, a local bereavement counsellor
and member of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council.

Although the number of suicide deaths is not going up, it has remained steady
for years at about 52 to 54 a year.

“What we want to see, of course, is a significant decline,” Moitoso

However, she does see an improvement in the understanding of suicide, and the
issues surrounding it.

“There is this greater awareness. That’s probably where we’ve
made greater strides,” Moitoso said. “As a community, we certainly
have a much greater respect and understanding for those who are suffering.”

People recognize the link between suicide and mental health issues, an evolution
from the simplistic notion of suicide as a rash act in response to a situation,
such as financial troubles.

That growing awareness is helped by the tremendous progress being made in the
field of neuroscience to treat and diagnose those at risk, Moitoso said.

As a result, people in the community more readily see the importance of intervention.
Yet, she said, “it takes a while for the infrastructure to catch up
with that awareness,” Moitoso said.

Like Lit, she said there’s not enough support in the community, including
affordable and accessible counselling.

She is pleased to see that more people are talking openly about suicide and
self-harm, and that the stigma around mental illness is lifting.

At prevention council events, more people approach the team to talk about their
personal experiences with suicide.

“We see a lot more of these spontaneous conversations,” Moitoso said.

She also leads a support group for families touched by suicide at the Erb and
Good Family Funeral Home in Waterloo, and has seen a big change in the atmosphere.

“Ten years ago, the heavy hearts were keep in secret,” Moitoso said.

Now people can talk about suicide and its link to mental health.

The Suicide Prevention Council, with representatives from social service agencies,
police, hospitals and the private sector, started 15 years ago to tackle the
difficult problem.

Now it has a part-time co-ordinator who is working with organizations to figure
out the tools they need to effectively help a person they recognize being
at risk for self-harm.

The more people talk about the issue “and understand the nature and the
complexity and the enormity of these numbers,” Moitoso said, the more people
will be helped with their life-threatening troubles.

Reproduced from