Suicide prevention takes centre stage
Dr. James Bolton
Suicide is not a new consequence of mental illness, but it is an important one, particularly here in Manitoba, where, according to a 2018 report by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, our rate of suicide leads the nation at 13.5 per 100,000 people vs. the Canadian average of 11.5 per 100,000.
That same report delivers other upsetting news: a recent increase in deaths by suicide in young women aged 18-24, a statistic that’s significant when you stop to think that, as recently as 2009, Statistics Canada reported that young men were three times more likely than young women to die by suicide.
As difficult as these statistics are to read, they serve to highlight the magnitude of the impacts of suicide in our community and why it’s imperative to remember that, however uncomfortable it can be to discuss suicide, it’s a conversation we need to have.
World Suicide Prevention Day, which falls on September 10th, provides an appropriate backdrop for that conversation.
Often, the first person we need to speak to is ourselves. Negative self-talk – that little voice inside each of us that questions our knowledge, our abilities, and our self-worth – can be a formidable adversary. For some, negative self-talk can become so persistent and dark that it becomes difficult to push back and even harder to find the courage to ask for help. But the simple act of identifying those feelings out loud is the first and most powerful step towards addressing thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
While there is no magical cure-all for any kind of mental illness, including those that may lead to suicidal thoughts, we need to realize that negative thoughts have power and that by seeking connection with other people, we can more effectively combat negative thoughts that thrive in isolation.
Connection is also imperative for those of us concerned about a loved one who may be experiencing depression and thinking about suicide. In isolation, their thoughts can grow and may manifest themselves in contemplating or planning a suicide. Connecting with loved ones when they are down helps to interrupt that narrative and can make all the difference. Simple connection strategies you can employ might include:
- Small acts of kindness. Offering a small kindness like sharing a home-baked treat or a mutually loved film that remind your loved one of your relationship to one another.
- Acknowledging their feelings. “I know things have been hard for you since you were laid off, how are you doing?”
- Practicing active listening, telling them you care about them.
- Probably most importantly, recognizing when you, or your loved one, needs more help that you can offer on your own.
While it is not your role to offer mental health treatment to your loved one, your support as a family member or friend can make a positive difference.
If your loved one indicates they are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, or if your conversations push beyond your personal boundaries, it is okay and important to encourage them to seek professional assistance. Mental health professionals are available to support and follow the treatment of those in crisis and I urge you to put your trust in them to support your loved one when it counts.
I’ve shared a list of local and national resources below that are available not only for individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, but also for their loved ones.
As a caregiver, it can be easy to lose sight of your own health and well-being as you provide support to your loved one. Remember, just as airline passengers are asked to don their own oxygen masks first, you will not be able to help your loved one if you are not in shape to do so.
Each of us has, and will continue, to encounter difficult emotions throughout our lives; grief, loss, anger and despair are part of the human experience and are appropriate reactions to difficult situations. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon: 12 per cent of Canadians will experience them, and it is important not to ignore them but to reach out if they occur. When those emotions take over, it is important to speak about them with a friend, sibling, spiritual leader, psychologist or a crisis worker. There are many services available to help, and many reasons to live, which together offer a lot of hope for the future. You are not alone.
Local and National suicide prevention resources
Dr. James Bolton is Medical Director, Shared Health Crisis Response Services and Health Sciences Centre Emergency Psychiatry