Recently, it was suicide prevention week in Canada. There were many posts from people and companies talking about the tragedy of suicide and importance of prevention. It tugs at my heart every year because I have personally had a suicide attempt that came at one of my darkest times. My heart is always with those who are struggling with thoughts of ending their life.
BUT this year I also felt angry during suicide prevention week.
Anger can be a healthy emotion because it tells us when our boundaries are being crossed. It tells us when we aren’t being listened to, when we’re not being valued, when we’re overlooked. My little bursts of frustration and anger about suicide prevention week is about the abysmal support and resources that are actually given to the massive human tragedy that is suicide.
In Canada, over 4,000 people die by suicide every year. That’s only the completed suicides; there are many times more people who attempt, and still more who think about it as being a viable “way out”. The 2 graphs below show completed suicides and hospitalizations due to self-harm and suicide attempts in Canada.
Suicide prevention week is an important time to look at the sobering facts about the reality that is the climbing rates of suicide in this and other countries. Sadly, the attention seldom turns into doing anything more than companies and individuals posting on social media about how sad it is and the number of a suicide hotline. I’m angry that we think this is enough.
Suicide is not just an impulse; it is years of depression, it’s losing all your faith that things could every get better; it’s months of isolation; it’s the culmination of a long struggle. Things that contribute to suicide risk are trauma, systematic oppression, exposure to violence, substance use, being a minority, having little access to affordable healthy food, social isolation, and health care that doesn’t begin to truly address these risks. Suicide prevention therefore, is not just stopping the attempt, it’s also about preventing all the things that lead to suicide. And this deserves far, far more attention than we give it.
Did you know that suicide disproportionately affects indigenous, black, and other minority groups? Did you know that major depression, one of the biggest contributing factors to suicide, is not as well treated in minority groups? Trauma, racism, and microaggressions all increase the risk for depression and suicide and are all more common in minorities.
This year during suicide prevention week I was also upset that Naturopathic doctors – skilled practitioners that can do so much to mitigate these risks – are continually left out of the conversation about mental wellness. Because NDs work with the whole person and not just a single symptom at a time, because we work with the person’s whole life situation not just their physical body, we are well positioned for actually helping all the risk factors for suicide and depression.
When we talk about suicide we have to talk about contributing factors. We have to talk about social determinants of health.
When I was feeling angry this week I took heart in knowing that there are countless social, environmental, and racial justice movements blossoming all over the world right now. It. Gives me hope that these groups are fighting for the attention and resources to correct and overturn some of the conditions that affect the health of the planet and the people on it.
I’ve dedicated my life to treating mental health, not just preventing suicides but also treating the root cause, not all of which is directly in my patients’ control. I spend my days helping people do their best to take care of their own mental health, and I also spend time and energy advocating for the resources, support, equity, and inclusivity that will decrease some of the more major underlying factors to mental illness.
Thank you to everyone who is aware, involved, and fighting for a cause. Our purposes are all related, and it’s all about wellbeing in the end. Let’s continue to do better!
Stats and figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada