September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, an initiative organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented. The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That's equivalent to one person every 40 seconds. In Canada, the latest figures tell us that 3,926 Canadians took their own life (data from Statistics Canada, 2012).
A GLOBAL PHENOMENON
Suicide is a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long. It is a phenomenon that occurs all over the world, across cultures, gender, and can take place at any age. The tragic ripple effect of suicide means that there are many, many more people who have been affected by suicide or have been close to someone who has attempted to take his or her own life. For each death by suicide, it has been estimated that the lives of 7-10 bereaved ‘survivors' are profoundly affected (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, n.d.). And in spite of the fact that suicide is preventable, it is still happening ...
CONNECT. COMMUNICATE. CARE.
The theme of the 2016 World Suicide Prevention Day is "connect, communicate, care." These three key words relay the importance of having an open conversation about suicide, and framing how to help those in need.
Social connectedness substantially reduces the risk of suicide, so supporting someone who has become disconnected could be life-saving. Moreover, fostering connections with individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide or have been suicidal themselves is vital to advancing suicide prevention efforts. Those who have been suicidal can help us understand the intricate interplay of circumstantial events that led them to the brink of suicide, and what perhaps saved them; while those who have lost someone to suicide can provide insights into how they progressed on their journey. Connecting affected individuals to formal and informal support networks can also help to prevent suicide. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention resources are a great place to start.
Open communication is key to suicide prevention efforts. We need to converse about suicide as we would any other public health issue if we want to reduce the stigma surrounding it. However, we also do not want to normalize it either. This is what makes approaching the subject of suicide so difficult, and often invitations for help are missed, dismissed, and avoided. Here are some tips that can help to communicate effectively with those who might be vulnerable to suicide (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, n.d.):
- Show compassion and empathy
- Listen in a non-judgmental way
- Acknowledge the importance of the conversation
- Ask directly - "are you thinking about suicide?"
The final ingredient - care. We need to ensure that policy-makers and planners care enough about suicide prevention to make it a priority, and to fund it at a level that identifies suicide as a REAL public health problem. That being said, suicide prevention can be immensely effective at the individual level. It takes one voice to make a difference. Check in on someone you might be concerned about, and start a caring conversation with them by asking how they are doing.
SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
On September 10th, show your support for World Suicide Prevention Day in the following ways:
- Light a candle and place it near a window at 8pm - it's the way people will be showing their support across the world!
- Wear a ribbon - the unified ribbon in orange and yellow signals hope out of darkness
- Speak up - break the stigma, reach out to a friend who might be in crisis, seek help for yourself if you are struggling, and connect with others on social media to raise awareness about suicide using the hashtag #WSPD
How do you show your support for suicide prevention efforts? Let us know in the comments below!
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (n.d.) Suicide: First aid guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.suicideprevention.ca/about-suicide/suicide-first-aid-guidelines/
Government of Canada, S. C. (2015, December 10). Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group (Both sexes rate). Retrieved August 23, 2016, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/hlth66d-eng.htm
Photo credit: https://www.lucidatreatment.com/blog/mental-health/suicide-prevention-candle-darkness/