NEED2 faces closure after severe loss of funding
Victoria’s only suicide prevention network could be saying goodbye for good unless emergency funding comes through — and fast.
NEED2 Suicide Prevention Education and Support, an offshoot of the defunct Victoria NEED Crisis Line, is in trouble. Last year, the Ministry of Children and Family Development cut the agency’s funding due to a lack of priority placed on NEED2’s services. Now, unless the group secures $240,000 worth of funding by June 30, NEED2 will shut its doors forever.
“Last year we were able to hobble together some money out of our contingency fund, but it was a really challenging year on a whole, and this year there’s just nothing left,” says Jane Arnott, NEED2 executive director. “Now we’re at a point where the community may be losing our services altogether.”
In Canada, suicide remains the second leading cause of death for youth under the age of 19 — first is accidents — but the statistics get more disturbing. Studies based on incoming reports have shown that one in 12 high school students in south Vancouver Island thought about suicide in the last year, while the numbers only increase in the central and north parts of the Island. One in 20 have actually attempted suicide to the point that they needed medical intervention and, in 2008, almost 4,000 youth in the south Island region reported having “seriously considered” suicide. Arnott points out that actual follow-through is seldom reported, largely due to shame and stigma around the issue.
For the last 14 years, the suicide prevention program ran alongside the crisis line network before the 39-year-old line was cut as of April last year due to loss of funding from Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA). NEED2 then formed as a rebranding of the suicide prevention program, and maintains the same services that have offered outreach — such as high school talks, anonymous website help and resource assistance — to youth and families.
In addition to the ministry cutting funding entirely, last year’s loss of funds from both B.C. Gaming and VIHA has left NEED2 scrambling for support from local municipalities, service clubs, businesses, the United Way and through good fiscal management.
Former Minister of Children and Family Development Mary Polak says the decision to cut close to $50,000 worth of funding from NEED2 wasn’t due to budget problems, but rather choice selection.
“We’ve taken a look over the course of more than a year of analysis and consultation … to try and make sure that we were addressing needs that, over the last 20 years, have changed — in terms of demographics, in terms of what types of programs are available,” Polak told media. “Indeed, as valuable as this [NEED2] program is … there are many new programs that have become available over the last 20 years.”
The government will be redistributing funding to programs like FRIENDS for Life, which teaches anxiety management to Grades 4, 5, and 7.
“The decision is really perplexing to us, because even the ministry has listed suicide prevention and intervention among youth as a top priority,” says Arnott.
So far, B.C. Gaming has committed to restoring $60,000 worth of funding for this year, and Oak Bay and Sidney have offered to get on board with contributions. The City of Victoria gave $19,000 last year, but will be making this year’s decision in mid-May. While the effort is a great step, it’s still not enough, says Arnott.
“What we really need is funding that can be counted on for more than just a year at a time. It seems like people forget that a lot of kids wind up thinking about [suicide], and that’s not something that just goes away,” says Arnott. “Many kids believe that this is their only way out, but it’s not … It’s important for them to realize they aren’t alone, and for someone to be there so that they don’t carry through on those intentions.”
One of the programs offered by NEED2 is the website, Youthspace.ca, which provides access to anonymous, immediate support during chat hours and provides information about various ways to receive help. The mass of stories found on the site show its breadth of service — and its popularity — among youth.
Arnott hopes others will realize the value of NEED2 before it’s too late.
“A lot of factors feed into someone getting to the point where they’re thinking suicidal thoughts,” she says. “What we can do here is teach people how to recognize when they, or someone they know, is getting to a scary place and how to get help.” M