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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
The month of September is thought of as the end of summer and a return to school and work for most of us. It can be a very hectic time of year filled with obligations and responsibilities which can increase the amount of stress we are experiencing. This is true for both children and adults.
We don't all have the same skills to cope with stress in our lives and the extra stresses in September can push some people into a very dark place. It seems appropriate then for September to be recognized as Suicide Prevention Month and that two days ago was World Suicide Prevention Day. While we have come a long way in educating and lessening the stigma around this topic, it is clear there is still much that can be done.
I have had the privilege of being trained to deliver Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). It is a world-recognized program, giving people the skills to help someone who is feeling suicidal. One of the things that has impressed me most about ASIST is the two-day training sessions are tailored to meet the needs of everyone, not just professionals.
Those who are having suicidal feelings will often reach out to a friend or family member that they trust before seeking professional help. It is therefore critical to have people trained to meet this need at all levels of society, as this is a problem that affects us all.
We don't all have the same skills to cope with stress in our lives and the extra stresses in September can push some people into a very dark place.
One of the training visuals we use to help people understand the impact of suicide on society is the iceberg, an image that is familiar to many in this region. At the tip of the iceberg, which you can see above water, are the people who complete suicide. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the number is about 55 to 60 each year. What you don't see below the surface is for every person who completes suicide, there are 20 to 25 others who attempt. Below the surface are the family members who are affected by these suicides and suicide attempts, and below that is the broader community of people who know these people, including friends, co-workers, classmates, etc.
When you put it all together, there is virtually no one who has not been directly or indirectly affected by suicide.
There are certain groups in Canada that are at higher risk for suicide. The suicide rate for First Nations people is twice the national average and among Inuit the rate is six to eleven times higher. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among our youth and for our LGBTQ2 youth, it is four to seven times higher than their peers.
The highest suicide rates are among middle-aged white men, a group that includes me. While it is important to recognize the risk to these groups, we need to be cautious to not focus all our resources in these areas. Not everyone who falls in these groups will have suicidal thoughts and conversely, many who fall outside these groups may be at risk of suicide.
The reality is that anyone who lives in our society could potentially be at risk to suicide
The reality is that anyone who lives in our society could potentially be at risk to suicide and any one of us could find ourselves in the position of being asked to help.
What we need to realize is suicide is a community problem that requires a response from the entire community. It begins with all of us being willing to have clear and open conversations around the issue without the stigmatization that has been attached to suicide in the past. More people across the spectrum of the community need to be trained in programs such as ASIST to give them the skills to respond effectively when called upon.
It is my greatest hope we get to a point when the topic of suicide can be discussed openly throughout the year. Until that time comes, I hope more eyes are opened this September around this issue that affects just about all of us.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.