The suicide rate across northern Ontario may hit record levels as the epidemic of youth suicides has now spread to communities that were previously untouched by the tragedy.

Out of the 49 northern reserves in the area, 16 suicides have been recorded so far this year. Last year’s total of 26 was the highest number ever recorded in northern Ontario.

So far, there has been one suicide in Sandy Lake First Nation, one at Pelican Falls High School in Sioux Lookout, and four in Muskrat Dam First Nation. All three communities had not been affected by the crisis before. Health officials are calling for measures to be taken to implement a region-wide suicide protocol. The protocol would need to address media strategies, prevention, crisis response, and counselling.

The numbers are cause for concern. The 16 suicides are the highest to date for a six-month period. The average age of suicides is getting younger and there are an increasing number of young women taking their own lives. Pikangikum First Nation has had seven young people die since the beginning of the year. Pikangikum had eight suicides, mostly young girls, last year.

There is much work to be done in an area that suffers from 80% unemployment. An intergovernmental committee on youth suicide is tackling the issue of managing the crisis in the north. Groups such as Health Canada, Community and Social Services, the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, Indian Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the Solicitor General are involved in efforts to improve communication and service coordination.