Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Fact. Over ten Canadians will die by suicide today. Fact. Many more will consider death by suicide. Fact. The current media campaigns to "raise awareness" on this Sept. 10 World Suicide Prevention Day are in need of something I cannot yet put my finger on.
Let's dissect posters that tell people suicide is 100% preventable; that are aimed at encouraging, but year after year, face criticism from people whose loved ones have died by suicide.
If suicide is 100% preventable, the logic goes, it should have been prevented.
It could have been prevented.
Someone missed something.
A sign. A warning. A cry for help.
If only you read these warning signs, you can save a life. You should have been able to save a life. It's poignant stuff, to be sure, that logic stuff. And it's true - you absolutely can save a life by knowing the warning signs of suicide - and acting accordingly. But since suicide does not have one single cause, there is not one single answer or solution to preventing it. In fact, if there is, it begins well before the warning signs are seen.
The best intervention and prevention is that which happens early, and is built into the core of your community. Warning signs include but are not limited to: talking about death, giving away possessions, despair and hopelessness, saying goodbyes, increasing substance use, reckless and danger behaviours, self-harm, sleep disturbances. Early warning signs are depression and substance use as well as experiencing a great loss.
Knowing the signs is certainly a step to preventing suicide, but let's not suggest this is anyway nearly enough. At this rate, we will be having "World Suicide Prevention Day" until the end of days and even then we will not have adequately addressed the question of why people die by suicide.
There is also the suggestion that reaching out saves lives. Empowers. Yep. On a surface level of social and public health concerns, telling people to get help when they need it is basically the least that can be done... Offering phone numbers, websites, personal time, etc. is all critically important, too. Canada Crisis Text Line: Crisis Services Canada
Hours: Available 24 hours for calls; Available 4 PM—12 AM ET for texts. Languages: English, French. Learn more
SMS: 45645 But again, let's not pretend this is enough. What we know about suicide is that intervening before a first attempt is the best prevention strategy to reduce future suicidal behaviours. What we know is that suicidal thinking can begin at ages younger than anyone wants to talk about. It is really rather quite tragic thinking about a pre-teen experiencing suicidal thinking and behaviours - so tragic we are quick to write it off as a (wait for it) cry for help or grab for attention - as if those are bad things. We want to sweep it under the rug, so-to-say. Sweep it at least until you see a campaign telling adults to reach out and speak out... Preventing suicide can be about believing children and teens when they tell you they are struggling. If we believe them, we can help them. Then, they can help themselves. Then, they can help others. But we do kids a disservice when we ignore that suicide is a social problem with personal consequences - one of them being devastation and heartbreak of entire communities. Prevention begins within the same communities. Tell the world the warning signs of suicide but also tell them suicide is preventable through developing and funding programs that change people's socio-economic and social status, that give not only the basic necessities but community, purpose, pursuit. A society can be affluent and also emotionally deficient and divisive and alienating. Anomie. The more we plug in, the less we connect. Suicide prevention is about connection. Mental health care funding & research. Family dynamics and unemployment rates. Genetics and drug policies. It is about every fabric that interweaves through society. It's not about any one thing but every little thing intersecting. The more we understand that we don't really understand suicide, the quicker we can realize knowing signs is only a small part of a complex puzzle that includes economics, psychology, sociology, and so much more. Suicide prevention is public health care. #worldsuicidepreventionday