Mental health issues in Canada have long been ignored, but recent statistics coming out of Alberta are showing why we must do much more to address mental health and the stigma associated with it.

According to the chief medical examiner’s office, 30 per cent more Albertans took their lives in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

Approximately 500 people die by suicide each year in Alberta, but due to this staggering increase the province is on pace to have more than 650 suicides this year.

David Kirby is a counsellor with the Calgary Distress Centre and said in an interview with CBC News that in this year of mass layoffs, calls to the Centre have ‘changed tone and have become more frequent.’ The demand for counselling services has also increased by 80 per cent.

“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,” he said.

Many people in contract positions, or who were in positions of precarious work were the first to be let go.

However, Dave Grauwiler, who is with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Alberta division, said it is too early to link the increase in suicides to the job losses in the province. He pointed out that it typically takes a couple of years in a recession for those numbers to go up.

“I think that stigma is still an issue around all mental illness,” he said. “However, we do see some pretty encouraging signs that the conversation is changing, that people are more willing to talk about their own experience of mental illness, that there are more opportunities for people to get help in our communities than there ever has been.”

If someone is facing mental health issues, or knows someone who is, and wants more information about support they should get in contact with their EAP or they can call 211 in Alberta, a number that is there to help individuals find the right community and social services.

Whatever the cause is, it is clear Alberta is facing a major mental health crisis and more must be done.

Canadians and advocacy groups have been calling for more to be done about mental health and the stigma associated with it all across Canada, and especially in the workplace.

Mental Health issues cost the Canadian economy over $50 billion each year and both Teamsters Canada and Teamsters Local 362 have created ‘Make It Mandatory’ mental health campaigns to make mental health resources mandatory in every workplace across Canada.

Canadians must work together to end the stigma and let people suffering know that they are not alone.