It's an unimaginable scenario, but for many it's a devastating reality.
On average, 10 people die by suicide each day in Canada, according to Health Canada, and each person who dies leaves behind about seven to 10 people who are profoundly affected.
Men are more likely than women to die by suicide, but the effect on the male friends and family members grieving that death is poorly understood, according to new research out of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Recovering from the suicide death of a male friend or family member can be emotionally challenging for men, "largely due to masculine ideals that dictate men should remain stoic and keep their feelings bottled up," noted a press release from the university. But other traits considered masculine — such as self-care and the need to protect others — can help men deal with their own emotional trauma, researchers noted.
"There is a growing body of research about male suicide, but we know much less about the grieving process that the survivors, particularly the men, go through," John Oliffe, the study's lead author and head of UBC's Men's Health Research program, said in the release.
"Hopefully our research adds to this knowledge and helps health-care providers design more effective interventions to protect men's mental health and that of their families."
Suicide rates in Canada have increased
Suicide is a critical public health issue in Canada, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, and is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the country. Rates have increased over the last 60 years, the association noted.
A recent string of celebrity suicides, including revered chef Anthony Bourdain, and designer Kate Spade, raised concerns that "suicide contagion" could cause rates to spike. Media coverage of these deaths can influence those who are already vulnerable or at risk, Madelyn Gould, a professor of epidemiology in child psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, told the Associated Press.
Those dealing with the grief of losing someone to suicide should know they're not alone, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention said on its website.
"The fact that someone died by suicide does not diminish our love for them, their value, the contribution they made to our families and communities and our right and need to celebrate and honour their lives and accomplishments. It is how a person lived not how they died that defines someone," the association said.
"He was strong to the end."
In the new study, researchers worked with 20 Canadian men who had lost a close male friend, partner or family member to suicide. They found the men tended to explain the death in typically-masculine terms, such as "he was strong to the end" or "he didn't want to be a burden to others." They also tended not to talk much about the death, preferring to process it on their own.
But other traits that could be considered masculine helped them cope, according to the news release.
"One participant, a family man, said he realized it was important to seek help for a health or mental issue when necessary, in order to safeguard his family's future. Another said he learned a lesson from his father's death to not prioritize making money over everything else in life," Oliffe said.
Asking the men to describe their loss through story-telling and photographs was also therapeutic, researchers noted.
Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit CAMH's resource to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you're worried about.
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