Connect, communicate and care to prevent suicide
Today, approximately 11 people will end their lives by suicide in Canada.
Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Canada. It is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 19. Canadian men are three times more likely to die by suicide than Canadian women. It is estimated that 90 percent of people who die by suicide were experiencing a mental health problem or illness – the most common being depression (about 60% of cases).
Every suicide is a tragic loss of life that has a devastating, lasting effect on family members, friends and communities. The suicide death of a loved one leaves many more questions than answers.
Those who die by suicide do not want to die
Suicide is a complex issue that cannot be placed in a neatly labelled box. There are many factors such as loss, trauma, depression, addiction or serious physical illness that can contribute to a person’s decision to end his or her life.
Those who have suicidal thoughts do not actually want to die – they want to end the pain of living. They are suffering with tremendous emotional pain. Typically, those who die by suicide have overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, despair and helplessness. People considering suicide feel as though their pain will never end and that suicide is the only way to stop the suffering.
Suicide can be prevented
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD). Since 2003, World Suicide Prevention Day has served as a call to action to individuals and organizations to prevent suicide. This year, the theme —Connect, Communicate, Care — encourages us all to do just that.
Suicide prevention depends on our ability to recognize those who are in distress and may be vulnerable. The American Association of Suicidology developed a simple tool for recognizing warning signs of suicide. It is called “IS PATH WARM” and outlines the key points to watch for:
I – Ideation (suicidal thoughts)
S – Substance Abuse
P – Purposelessness
A – Anxiety
T – Trapped
H – Hopelessness/Helplessness
W – Withdrawal
A – Anger
R – Recklessness
M – Mood changes
How can you help prevent suicide?
What can we do to help those who suffer before they take their own lives? How can we support those who have lost loved ones to suicide?
- Those who are vulnerable usually suffer in silence. Social connections are extremely important. They need to know they are not alone, that there are people surrounding them who care. If you know someone who is vulnerable or struggling with a mental illness, check in regularly, and listen with an open heart and mind.
- Take every sign of suicide seriously. They are cries for help. Remember the IS PATH WARM signs. Watch for other indicators such as a preoccupation with death, self-loathing, saying good-bye, self-destructive behaviour or a sudden sense of calm. If someone you know exhibits these signs, you need to try to find help from a family member, a doctor or a psychologist as soon as possible.
- Never agree to keep a person’s thoughts of suicide a secret. Often professional help is needed. Call a crisis line for advice and referrals. Go along to doctor’s appointments and support groups. It is better to have a loved one angry with you than the alternative. Take comfort in knowing that you did what you had to do to keep him/her safe.
- Talking and listening can be the best intervention. Listen, care, validate and be supportive and non-judgmental.
- For those who have lost a loved one, suicide is life-shattering. The range of emotions they suffer include grief, anger, guilt and disbelief. The pain is unimaginable. The stigma surrounding the death of their loved one can be very isolating. Reach out to those who are grieving. Allow them to open up and simply be a shoulder for their pain. Be sensitive and thoughtful around days that are especially painful such as holidays, back-to-school day, and a loved one’s birthday.
- Change the way you think and speak about suicide and mental illness. As a society, it’s time we are open to learning more about mental illness, talking about it, offering assistance, and being more sensitive to it.
September 10 is an important day in recognizing the devastating impact of suicide and working to prevent it. But the loss of life by suicide doesn’t go by a calendar. People are suffering every day and they need our help to find their way to a life filled with love and support. We must work as one to connect, communicate and care to prevent suicide.