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Dr. Paul LatimerSuicide is the darkest and most tragic face of mental illness – but we can reach out and help.

When a person cuts his or her own life short out of desperation to end mental and emotional suffering, there is little that can comfort families and loved ones.

One in 25 Canadians will attempt suicide during their lifetime.

Even more shocking is the fact that roughly two-thirds of high school students will consider suicide before they graduate. It is the second leading cause of death among young people in Canada.

Along with young people, seniors and other vulnerable members of society are most affected by suicide.

Of all age groups in Canada, men over the age of 85 have the highest rate of completed suicides – double the rate found in the general population. Illness, loss of loved ones and loneliness contribute to stress and depression that can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviour in this group.

First Nations populations also have higher rates of suicide than the general Canadian population.

Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by homicide and war.

Suicide is a tragic consequence of mental distress that has become more common over the past five decades.

As many as 90 percent of people who commit suicide experience mental health issues such as depression, substance abuse or other disorders. Between 10 and 15 percent of all people with a mental illness will commit suicide.

Hopelessness is named as the single most accurate predictor of suicide. This is a common symptom of depression and some other psychiatric disorders.

All of this constitutes yet another reason why it is crucial to seek treatment for mental illness.

Some warning signs for suicide include:

  • recent suicide attempts or other forms of self-harm;
  • talking or joking about suicide;
  • risk-taking behaviour;
  • deliberate self harm such as cutting;
  • expressing feelings of hopelessness about the future;
  • withdrawal from friends, family and activities;
  • substance abuse;
  • self-neglect;
  • hearing voices;
  • giving away possessions;
  • and questioning one’s own worth.

Although it is commonly thought that people who threaten suicide or make non-lethal attempts are simply trying to get attention, this is not usually the case. Most people who talk or behave in such ways are reaching out for help.

Most people who eventually attempt suicide will talk about their intentions before taking any action. Don’t be afraid to discuss the subject with a loved one. Talking about the feelings will not push a person over the edge. Tell your loved one that he or she is important to you and that you don’t want to have to say goodbye.

Finally, seek professional advice immediately and get your loved one some much-needed help.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Paul Latimer is president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and a Kelowna psychiatrist.


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