Human beings are not good at predicting how they will react in circumstances that have yet to unfold. Those of us working in healthcare understand that life-altering illness, trauma or anticipation of death can sometimes sap the will to live. In those instances, healthcare providers are called upon to commit time; time to manage distress, provide unwavering support and to assuage fear that patients might be abandoned to their hopelessness and despair. That is the essence of how medicine has traditionally responded to suffering. Stopping time by way of arranging the patient's death has never been part of that response.
The plan was to drive off the neighbourhood bridge. It had one of those flimsy corrugated steel side rails at the bottom of a steep hill and curve. I always felt those railings were only a token effort to protect against plans such as this. I had spent the morning running errands and my two-year-old was fast asleep in her car seat in the back. I had installed that seat with the help of a police officer and I knew it was secure and designed to protect on impact. I could see her in my rearview mirror and had a moment of doubt thinking of what I would miss out on.
I am genuinely worried about the mental health of police officers across Canada (and around the world for that matter). It absolutely appalls me that there are officers across the country taking their own lives -- some with their service-issued gun. Police chiefs across the country need to get really creative to ensure another member of their forces do not take their own lives. One way we can help to facilitate this much-needed change is by talking. We need to take the sting out of talking about mental illness. None of us would be ashamed to admit we have a physical illness, so why are we so afraid to talk about our mental illnesses?
I often use cancer as an example when making a point about the lack of support when speaking of mental illness because the very fact that cancer campaigns are many, funding is frequent, and nobody denies its existence nor attributes stigma to the disease is the direct antithesis of that ascribed to any mental illness.
Bell Let's Talk Day inspired active online engagement, attracted celebrity endorsements and the attention of media, all the while raising vital charitable dollars. But a one-day social media event is not enough to significantly move the needle away from ignorance, fear and silence. After all, what happens the next day, and the day after that? Social change requires more than a social media plan. It requires a long-term sustainable strategy. Because in our content-rich, highly distracted world, passion is sometimes overrun by profit, causes are sidestepped by things like limited overhead and the desire to stay current fuels an unyielding need to move onto the next big thing.
I have advocated extensively for mental illness to be treated and looked at the same as physical illnesses. That's why if we're going to accept physician assisted-suicide as an appropriate remedy for people suffering from an irremediable physical illness then we must accept this to be an appropriate remedy for people living with mental illness.
Health is health. One disease does not trump another. But support goes a long way in raising spirits and causing one to feel less alone; less isolated. Depression is a state which has for its purpose to gnaw away at your mind bit by bit, until you have given up completely. And when that happens, the outcome is the same for someone battling from depression as someone fighting cancer.
In recent years, some parents might have found themselves wondering: "What is the link between bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide?" "Is bullying worse than when I was a kid?" "What can I do to keep my kid safe?" For many parents, it's easy to slide into worry-mode. But it's important for parents to be mindful of how they are reacting to stories they are hearing in the media or within the community.
In the last few years, two high profile youth suicides in the Ottawa region garnered tremendous media attention and, as a new study suggests, resulted in increased emergency room visits by youth for mental health distress. But what at first sounds like an alarming link may serve as an important positive lesson.
This past week, the Supreme Court of Canada has been hearing an appeal by the BC Civil Liberties Association that could grant terminally ill Canadians the right to assisted suicide. The Court faces a daunting task. Palliative care cannot eliminate every facet of end-of life suffering. Preserving dignity for patients at the end of life requires a steadfast commitment to non-abandonment, meticulous management of suffering and a tone of care marked by kindness. In response to this dignity conserving approach, the former head of the Hemlock Society conceded that "if most individuals with a terminal illness were treated this way, the incentive to end their lives would be greatly reduced."
According to the most recent statistics, suicide rates outside Alaska's main cities are four times the national average and among the highest in the world. In 2010 alone, the number of suicide in Alaska's Kuskokwim prompted state and local officials to mount an emergency response. Despite their efforts however, suicide rates in rural Alaska are still high.
Farmers are committing suicide as you read this article. In countries like India, the rate of farmer suicides has become a national crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) is particularly concerned with farmer suicides because of the impact it is having on families. WHO estimates that one person commits suicide every 13.3 minutes.
The death of comedian Robin Williams last month sparked a worldwide discussion about suicide, its underlying causes and how it might be prevented. And, with World Suicide Prevention Day taking place Sept. 10, the subject is certain to generate more debate as people seek to understand this important health issue. Having spent 10 years researching the subject while working as a professor of psychiatry, I believe there are things we can do as a community to tackle this problem. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on what researchers have learned over the years about strategies for preventing suicide.