Suicide – a preventable tragedy

Every year, approximately 4,000 Canadians commit suicide and 100 times as many deliberately harm themselves, but do not die as a result. Staggering numbers, considering that the tragedy of suicide is preventable and often possible to predict.

Suicide is most prevalent among older white males and is associated with mental or other medical illness, loss, poor social support and functional impairment. Suicide is also relatively common among seniors with 12 in every 100,000 people over the age of 65 dying from suicide each year.

More than 90 per cent of suicide victims are known to have one or more psychiatric disorders at the time of their death – suicides may be preventable if psychiatric illnesses are managed properly and if supports are in place.

Prevention of suicide requires a higher level of public awareness surrounding mental health issues as well as specific conditions.

In addition to the importance of raising awareness, we must eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness so that people can admit their problems and seek appropriate help rather than concealing, hiding or avoiding the issues. Problems are not solved until they are acknowledged openly.

Another important factor in cases of suicide is substance abuse. A person with an existing mental health condition is much more likely to attempt suicide while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. Substances act as a wildcard in these instances - they lower inhibitions and impair judgment and cognitive faculties, often causing an individual to do something that would not be considered without these effects.

If you suffer from any mental health condition, using substances is extremely dangerous.

Poverty and homelessness are also obvious issues to be addressed in preventing suicide. People need to have hope that both their illness and lives in general will get better.

The community can help to deal with this problem by working together to come up with solutions to poverty and homelessness and creating more programs and safe places for people to receive the dignity and safety they deserve.

Better access to mental health and addiction services is another area for suicide prevention. When mentally ill individuals can easily access and afford the support services they need, hopelessness is less likely to set in.

Signs that a loved one may be at risk of suicide include: previous suicide attempt(s), mental health conditions (in particular mood disorders), combined mental health and substance abuse issues, family history of suicide, hopelessness or helplessness, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, barriers to accessing mental health services, loss, stressful life event, access to lethal methods, unwillingness to seek help because of stigma, exposure to suicide (family, peers, significant others), physical, emotional or sexual abuse, legal issues, arrests or incarceration, or sexual identity conflict.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above risk factors, are feeling overwhelming helplessness or despair or are feeling suicidal for any reason, seek help. Talk to someone you trust and enlist the aid of a professional.

There are people in the community trained to help find solutions and who will work through these issues with you.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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