We need to talk about Suicide Prevention.
By MP HAROLD ALBRECHT |
Published: Monday, 05/05/2014 12:00 am EDT
Today marks the start of Mental Health Week.
For those few of you who don’t subscribe to the Hill-Times, please read and share this note about why we need to talk about suicide, suicide prevention, mental illness, and especially mental health.
I’m often credited with writing Canada’s first national suicide prevention strategy. This is 100% false.
My work on Bill C-300 took the work of groups like the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, and put it into legislative form. While Bill C-300 was groundbreaking, it’s the advocates who pushed the issue for years who deserve credit.
A “strategy” would mandate the deployment of effective programs and resources where they are needed. C-300 called on the government to determine what programs are effective and where the resources are needed. We are still at the stage of defining what “best practices” in promoting mental health and preventing suicide are. In Britain, every occurrence of suicide requires the attending physician to complete standard paperwork, outlining not how the act was carried out, but what interventions had occurred prior to the suicide, and to what effect. They are actively trying to identify and close the gaps in their system.
It’s hard to separate suicide prevention efforts from mental health promotion. The great majority of suicides are due, at least in some part, to mental illness. Mental illness remains one of the last unreasonable taboos in our society.
This stigma permeates our society, even where it should be most easily eliminated. Few medical schools offer training in suicide prevention. Our medical professionals should be embarrassed by the fact that a Canadian suffering from a severe mental illness has a life expectancy 25 years shorter than the average Canadian. This is not because their mental illness is fatal, but because their doctors attribute symptoms of physical illness to the mental illness, leaving life-threatening issues untreated.
If a diagnosed mental illness can trigger these stereotypes even among highly-trained medical professionals, how can the average Canadian be expected to be any different?
We know that three quarters of mental illnesses have their onset in adolescence or youth. How many teachers would be prepared to counsel a suicidal student? More importantly, how many teachers or coaches are equipped to recognize the warning signs?
There are too many false beliefs held as “common knowledge.” Most would be surprised, given recent media coverage, to know that Canadian soldiers and veterans, for example, die by suicide at the same rate as other Canadians, or even slightly lower.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among our youth. That is a tragedy. Children’s mental health and crisis services have received a great deal of attention in recent years – the Bell Let’s Talk Campaign is one of the more prominent examples. This attention has led to another myth – that youth are at the highest risk of suicide.
The truth is that middle-aged men are most likely to die by suicide. The suicide rate for male youth, according to Statistics Canada, is only slightly more than half that for men aged 40 to 59. Out of every 100,000 males aged 40-59, 32.5 will die by suicide. To put that in perspective, less than 20 per 100,000 will die of prostate cancer.
In fact, Public Health Ontario estimated the burden of mental illness in 2012. In terms of lost productivity and premature death, just nine mental illnesses and substance abuse had one-and-a-half times the impact of all cancers, or seven times the negative impact of all infectious diseases.
Canada suffers about 4,000 deaths by suicide each year. For every death, there are seven to ten loved ones left behind. The survivors are victims of suicide as well, suffering through the physical, emotional, and spiritual strain, often accompanied by false guilt or an irrational sense of failure. They are eight times more likely than the average Canadian to die by suicide.
Later this morning, I’ll open Mental Health week by joining Members of Parliament at the launch of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s #308Conversations about suicide prevention. This initiative will engage Canadians in a national dialogue on suicide prevention.
We need to talk about suicide prevention. As my friend Scott Chisholm of the Collateral Damage Project is fond of saying, “We need to talk about suicide and suicide prevention, because not talking about it isn’t working.”