REGINA -- New data from the Regina Police Service shows more people have died by suicide this year in the city, a figure that mental health advocates hope gets others to take the issue more seriously.

Police said in an email that as of June 23, there were 20 completed suicides resulting in death. Last year during the same time frame, there were 13 completed suicides, according to the data.

Donna Bowyer, the provincial director of the Canadian Mental Health Association H.O.P.E Learning Centre in Regina, said people should treat deaths by suicide more seriously.

She said taking care of people’s mental health is no different than addressing their physical health needs.

“It’s just as crucial for people to be able to get the services and the support for somebody who’s having thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior,” she said.

In a recent police report, it was identified there were 662 suicide-related calls in Regina so far this year.

The Police and Crisis Team responds to suicide and mental health calls. Police officers and social workers work together to provide on-site services.

The team has five members: two officers, two social workers and a supervisor.

Team supervisor Sgt. Sheri Wild said they don’t respond to every mental health call, but they treat suicide-related calls as a high priority.

“Not everybody has the ability to have telephone or tele-health online sessions,” Wild said. “We work very strongly with our community partners to help assist those who maybe need those services but don’t have access to them.”

In 2019, the crisis team responded to 749 calls that required intervention. Of those calls, 67 people were taken to hospital, 598 were referred to various community supports and 44 diverted arrest because of the team’s intervention.

When addressing their mental health, people often deal with stress and anxiety, said Jim Demeray, the executive director with UnderstandUs, a mental health advocacy organization.

Demeray said he personally struggles with anxiety. He said self-isolation can lead to mental health challenges.

“Isolation and being alone with your thoughts, if you’re in any kind of negative headspace, can actually lead to more irrational thoughts and heightened anxiety,” he said. “Not to mention the pandemic has allowed a lot of people to have a lot of unknowns of the future.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says social interaction is key for one’s mental health.

“It’s so important to have that social contact and to be able to be with other people to normalize your life,” said Bowyer. “We don’t have any normalcy.”

Bowyer also emphasized there is no way to predict who is struggling and in crisis.

“There isn’t one group of people that you could isolate and say, if we watch this group, we’re going to catch the people that have thoughts of suicide,” said Bowyer. “The youngest I have heard is four years old, right up to grandmas and grandpas. Everybody is at risk.”

The CMHA has set up provincial wellness lines that anyone can call anonymously during the pandemic.

In April, the lines received 98 callers, rising dramatically to 248 callers in May.

The lines received 161 calls from June 1 to 15.

Bowyer said people often don’t have a close person they can sit down with and discuss their mental health.

“A lot of times you have your professional, but you don’t have that somebody you can sit down with who truly does understand what it’s like to struggle with depression or anxiety,” she explained.

The CMHA opened up some services online. They have also provided training sessions for those who want to advocate for mental health or be a supporter for others going through crisis.

Demeray said reaching out to friends and family is a step anyone can take to help others better their mental health. He believes having tough conversations brings awareness.

Even though people are physically distancing, it’s important to reach out to one another, he said.

“Have conversations with people,” he said. “Use whatever platform you can to just have conversations with people around you because it does add a lot of support.”