'It is preventable': expert advice on talking to those contemplating suicide
Published Friday, June 8, 2018 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 8, 2018 10:15PM EDT
In Canada, approximately 10 people die by suicide every day, with those aged 40 to 59 accounting for 45 per cent of that figure. For every suicide, there are also an estimated 20 attempts.
“There’s still a hesitation to speak openly about these issues,” Canadian mental health advocate Mark Henick told CTV News. “Even though we’ve come so far in talking about mental health, suicide is still one of the most stigmatized aspects of mental health.”
“You treat a coworker differently when they come back from depression as opposed to a broken bone,” psychologist Todd Leader added in an interview with CTV Atlantic. “That’s stigma and it’s an individual attitude and behavior that we would normally call prejudice and discrimination, and we need to start to rethink it.”
Experts emphasize how important it is to support someone who is depressed in order to remind them that they are not alone. You should not necessarily try to cheer them up, they say, but you should assist them in getting professional help. Also, don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions.
“Ask them directly if they’re thinking about killing themselves,” Henick, who’s been open about attempting suicide as a young man, advised. “Asking them that question will not give them the idea to kill themselves. It might trigger them to talk about it. It might trigger the need to have an intense medical intervention. That’s okay.”
Experts also say that any mention of death should be taken seriously, and that with proper professional help, a crisis can be averted and a life can be saved.
“Have these conversations anyway, because then it ingrains in them that it is okay to talk,” Henick said. “There is help out there, there’s effective help out there, and 100 per cent of suicides are absolutely preventable if we can get people the help that they need when they need it.”
Jim Malone, who has been running a Halifax peer support group for people living anxiety and depression for more than a dozen years, adds it’s important to tell those contemplating suicide that their feelings will pass.
“They should be reminded very strongly that the suicidal ideation, or that crisis part, is temporary and it does go away,” Malone, who lives with diagnosed depression, told CTV Atlantic.
Their advice comes following a trio of high-profile suicides over the past week. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, 61, died of suicide Friday. His death was preceded by the suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, on June 5 and Ines Zorreguieta, the 33-year-old sister of the Dutch queen, on May 7.
“I think that if anything good can come from a tragedy like this, it’s that it’s getting people talking about how to prevent suicide, that it is preventable, and I think that’s a good thing,” Henick said. “This draws attention to the fact that suicide can happen to anybody, regardless of how much money they make, how famous they are, how happy they seem, how much people like them -- they can still have their demons, they still might have their illness, and they need help just as much as anybody else.”
Such conversations and media attention can help eliminate stigmas surrounding talking about mental health, Malone added.
“There’s just too many people that are ill with some sort of mental challenge, but they’re hiding it because that’s what our society does,” Malone said. “Ask for help. Ask for help from a lot of people. I’ve been talking to people for years and not one -- not even one – person has criticized me for coming out about my mental health challenges.”
Alive! Canada, a suicide prevention and awareness group, has been trying to underscore the severity of the problem for years.
“Depression and other mental illnesses can be terminal illnesses,” a speaker in one of their online videos says. “We need to start recognizing that more.”
With a report from CTV News medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip and CTV Atlantic’s Heidi Petracek