Suicide (2)

Did you know we kill ourselves far more often than we kill each other? It's true. Suicide rates in Canada are approximately 10 times higher than homicide rates and the numbers are similar in the US.

This is often surprising since we don't hear much about suicide. News agencies don't cover many deaths by suicide unless they occur as part of a crime and even families affected by suicide often cover it up from shame or grief.

Suicide kills roughly 12 in every 100,000 people in Canada and a much larger number attempt it unsuccessfully. Still, most Canadians live without much awareness of this killer in our midst.

Psychiatric researchers and practitioners do know the vast majority of suicides occur as a result of untreated or improperly managed mental illness. As such, many tragic deaths could be prevented if proper care were available, accessible and sought after by those experiencing mental illness.

Two recent studies published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggest treatment of depression either with therapy or drugs reduces the risk of suicide in all age groups and especially during the first months of treatment.

Both studies showed a decrease in suicide attempts after beginning treatment, regardless of the individual's age.

Treatment does save lives when it is used. Unfortunately, the ongoing stigma surrounding mental illness prevents many people from seeking help and also often stops family members of suicide victims from speaking out about their loved one's death.

When suicide remains an unaddressed taboo subject, it can become a cycle. People who lose a loved one to suicide are at five times the risk of committing suicide themselves. Bringing suicide out of the shadows and talking about it openly will increase awareness and support from the community, which in turn could save lives.

Since the World Health Organization predicts depression will be the second most common disabling condition in the world by the year 2020, now is the time to make sure we know how to detect it and seek help.

Depression is more than feeling sad. Symptoms do include a depressed mood, but also include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; a loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable; social withdrawal; appetite changes; sleep disturbance; and increased irritability.

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. Don't wait.


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