September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. This date exists to bring awareness and understanding to those who have been impacted by suicide. Since 2003, over 50 countries have worked together on preventative and awareness measures – a world now affected by another commonality, a pandemic.
“People with pre-existing mental health conditions are some of the hardest hit,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO, CMHA. “The pandemic is exposing how broken our mental health system already was in Canada. We must invest in community mental health programs and services, improve our nationwide suicide prevention plan and seize this opportunity to fix our system for the longer term.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, a new national survey reveals warning signs that more Canadians thought about suicide in 2020 than in 2019. The study confirms that in 2019, 2.5% of Canadians reported having had suicidal thoughts versus 6% in May of 2020 – 1 in 20 Canadians had recently experienced thoughts or feelings of suicide.
Elisa Brewer-Singh, Executive Director at Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council (WRSPC), says supporting suicide awareness, intervention, and prevention is a role everyone should consider, especially now. “If we’re willing to have the difficult conversations and reach out to someone who is struggling, the vast majority of suicides can be prevented,” she said.
“The pandemic may exacerbate some of the risk factors for suicide for some individuals that include previous mental health struggles such as depression, stressful life events such as loss of employment or income, and weakened social supports which includes isolation.“
Brewer-Singh says COVID-19 forced them to explore a virtual environment they hadn’t considered before. Because of this, they may be able to access individuals who weren’t previously engaged because of the stigma that is attached to mental illness and suicide.
WRSPC has been hosting World Suicide Prevention Day for over a decade. They will continue to recognize those who have lost someone, as well as those who live with suicidal thoughts and behaviours, through free online events.
In the week leading up to World Suicide Prevention Day, WRSPC will host a virtual wellness fair on Facebook and distribute free at-home activity kits. The hope is to encourage the community to engage in various World Suicide Prevention Day awareness activities.
“When someone is thinking of suicide, there may be some invitations for help that they exhibit that can be an opening for a conversation with someone in which you can share what you have noticed and ask them directly if they are thinking of suicide,” Brewer-Singh said.
The following behaviour could be an invitation to start a conversation:
• a change in mood, for example from happy to sad or indifferent and/or agitated/aggressive
• a lack of interest or enjoyment in usual activities
• expressing feelings of hopelessness, burdensomeness, or having no purpose
• increased substance use like drugs or alcohol
"We do know that suicide affects people of all ages and backgrounds, though there are some demographics that are impacted disproportionately, including older adult males,” she said. The added barrier of isolation means these warning signs can go unseen, heightening the need to continually check-in with friends and loved ones.
WRSPC World Suicide Prevention Day virtual event will be streamed on Facebook on September 10th at 6 pm, including speakers and a live butterfly release. “We encourage those participating at home to share images of their activities by tagging WRSPC and using the hashtag #WSPD2020WR,” Brewer-Singh adds.
If you are in crisis in Waterloo Region, please contact 1-844-437-3247 (24/7) or visit www.wrspc.ca
For resources on maintaining mental health and wellness during COVID-19 visit https://wrspc.ca/maintaining-mental-wellness-during-covid-19