Suicide is a tragedy involving not only an individual, but also all those who are touched by the loss; suicide prevention is the responsibility of communities. And as communities we are consistently failing more than 3,500 individuals each year – mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and friends and colleagues. We are also failing everyone who loved them.
Yes, we need more research to better understand the complex causes that make people vulnerable to suicide, including the mental health problems and illnesses prevalent in up to 90 per cent of victims. And we need more accessible and more effective treatments for those illnesses.
But simply waiting for research and resources, and someone to pay for them, is the poorest excuse for inaction. Plenty of studies have already come and gone, pointing to things we could and should be doing right now, but are not.
One of the best of these recommendations should also be the easiest – to talk about it.
We’ve all heard that before, and likely more than once. Yet here we are saying it again, because clearly it’s still not happening enough. Not in our living rooms, in our classrooms, in our workplaces. Not as families, as communities, as a country.
Despite being one of the leading causes of death in Canada for those aged 15-34, suicide is the least talked about and it is flourishing in our silence.
We’ll sit around and chat about all kinds of health issues at family gatherings, from a bad cold to a bout with cancer. But no one brings up the depression they’ve been struggling with, their sudden sense of hopelessness or despair. What stops them from telling us?
Stigma is a terrible thing. It can take otherwise upstanding citizens and turn them into lethargic followers. It can make us afraid to talk or listen to the more than 3,500 Canadians who will die by suicide this year.
The negative attitudes and discrimination around mental illnesses and suicide are posing an enormous barrier to treatment and prevention, and are drowning out the one conversation we need to be having. A conversation that can save lives.
So let’s get talking, and by doing so help to bring this crisis of suicide into the open, instead of letting it linger in silence among so many of us – mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and friends and colleagues – who are living in pain.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and the Canadian Mental Health Association are just a couple of organizations that have information online about how to talk openly about suicide and mental health with the people we care about.
Let’s talk to our children, who recent tragedies have reminded us again are particularly at risk, and to everyone else we love. Let’s tell them it’s ok to reach out and ask for help – today, tomorrow, forever.
Let’s learn how to recognize the signs of severe distress that could lead to suicide attempts, and then tell everyone else how to recognize them, too. It is also important to know what to say and what to do.
It would be utopian to think that we can prevent all suicides, but it would be defeatist to presume we can prevent none.
We can prevent more, a lot more, when every Canadian finally recognizes it is their responsibility.
Author’s Note: September 10, 2013 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Visit www.suicideprevention.ca to find a crisis centre in your area. If you are in immediate crisis, call 911.
Dammy Damstrom-Albach is the President of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention; David Goldbloom is the Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.