September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. This year’s theme, “Take a minute, change a life,” reflects the responsibility we all have to care for those who may be at risk and to educate ourselves so that we know how to help. The following facts from the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and Statistics Canada provide a starting point for building awareness:
Suicide is a pervasive global issue
Suicide occurs in all countries and across all demographics. It accounts for more deaths than war, homicide and terrorism combined.
Suicide rates have been on the rise
Globally, suicide rates have increased by 60% in the last 45 years. In Canada alone, we’ll lose 11 people today and 210 will attempt suicide. A Canadian health survey showed that 14.7% of Canadians have thought about suicide, and 3.5% have attempted it.
Certain populations are at greater risk for suicide
Suicide accounts for 24% of deaths among young people ages 15-24 in Canada. Also at increased risk are elderly and incarcerated people, those with mental illness, and marginalized populations, including those who have experienced trauma and/or systemic oppression.
Those coping with depression or another mental health disorder are at greatest risk
The research suggests that over 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness and 60% suffer from depression. For people with schizophrenia, suicide is the most common cause of death.
The effects of suicide are far-reaching
It is estimated that the loss of a person by suicide “profoundly” affects the lives and mental health of 7-10 other people long after the death occurs.
Most suicides do not happen without warning
The vast majority – 80% – of people considering suicide communicate their intentions to others. Sometimes this is as overt as a direct threat, or it can be signaled through an off-handed comment or joke, making a reference being dead, or making preparations for dying. Previous suicide attempts, mood disorders, increased use of drugs or alcohol, and experiencing a major loss are also risk factors. Warning signs of suicide and any threats of self-harm should always be taken seriously.
It’s a myth that talking about suicidal thoughts increases the chances a person will die by suicide
There is no evidence that talking to people about suicide in a compassionate, responsible way that emphasizes prevention puts them at any greater risk of suicide. These conversations can also be a critical pathway to treatment with a health care professional.
A strong support network is a protective factor for suicide
Connectedness to family, friends and one’s community reduces the likelihood that a person will consider suicide. Having a safe and supportive space to talk about suicidal thoughts or distressing feelings, particularly with a qualified therapist, can also reduce the risk.
There is no single cause
Suicide usually results from the interrelation of multiple risk factors. What people who consider suicide often have in common is the experience of extreme emotional pain and intolerable feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. They often feel that suicide is their only option to end this pain.
Most importantly, suicide is preventable
Awareness of the risk factors and warning signs for suicide can allow for timely interventions that save lives. Ultimately, change is possible through greater mental health awareness, accessibility of effective mental health treatment, and increased resources and mental health support across the spectrum.
Below are some resources to reach out to if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts
National Suicide Prevention Line
Toronto Distress Centre:
If there is an immediate risk of suicide or self-harm, call 911 or go to your local hospital emergency room right away.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.