Thursday, April 24, 2014

How can we make life more difficult for those struggling with suicidal ideation?

That seems like a counter intuitive question, and it’s doubtful that anyone in our various police services is asking it. Instead, carelessness seems to be causing them to stumble into ways of making life worse for those who consider suicide.

Last Monday, Ann Cavoukian, the Ontario Privacy Commissioner, revealed that many Ontario police services are routinely uploading attempted suicide calls to CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, access to which is shared with the American FBI, and Customs and Border Patrol, who have refused at least one Canadian woman entry to the states because of an attempted suicide a decade earlier. The ludicrous nature of a policy that results in individuals being barred from travelling on vacation simply because they have been suicidal at some point in the past is incredible, the emotional effect on the victims must be horrible. Imagine being told that because of how utterly miserable you were several years ago (or even at present for that matter.) you would not be allowed to take the vacation that you had already booked and paid for.

Still, I think that privacy breach pales in comparison to the one reported by B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. Denham recently revealed that police departments in B.C. are, when conducting routine background checks for new employees, including mental health data, including suicide attempts. While we can, and should, try to fight the stigma attached to suicide, to force individuals who have previously attempted suicide to openly identify themselves to potential employers is so terrible it’s hard to believe it’s happening in our present society. While discrimination may or may not follow one of these background checks, it’s clear that by giving the information out, B.C. police services are needlessly putting people at risk of discrimination on mental health grounds, and are certainly violating their privacy.

Is it any wonder that people suffering from mental illnesses have severe trust issues? It seems to me that this sort of behaviour on the behalf of police agencies erodes any confidence those with mental health issues might have had in law enforcement. Given that these people often already have extremely small support networks, won’t making them hesitate before calling 9-1-1 lead to more completed suicides, and less close calls?

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