Averting tragedy: World Suicide Prevention Day

Help available locally for individuals, families

More than 3,500 Canadians die by suicide every year and, according to the World Health Organization, most of these deaths can be prevented. This Friday (Sept. 10) is World Suicide Prevention Day, a good time to talk openly about a difficult subject, discuss solutions, and dispel common misperceptions, officials with the North Shore Schizophrenia Society (NSSS) said in a statement.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among British Columbians aged 15 to 24. Up to 90 per cent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or an addiction. Appropriate treatment for those disorders lowers the risk of suicide, so it is essential that people with symptoms of a mental illness have access to treatment as quickly as possible, said Christine Buttkus, NSSS Sea to Sky coordinator.

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One of the barriers to treatment in the Sea to Sky corridor is that there are no full-time psychiatrists, but working with a general practitioner is always a possibility, as is getting a referral to a psychiatrist on the North Shore, she said. Families of someone who is mentally ill should not sit back. A proactive approach, rather than a wait-and-see attitude, is essential, she said.

For those with an illness who are having difficulty, a stay at Lions Gate Hospital may be required, which in turn may require involuntary admission, since more often than not, people with severe mental illness do not understand they are ill. Families in this situation need to ensure their general practitioner understands the provision for involuntary admission in the Mental Health Act and is willing to use it. Any doctor can issue a first certificate in order to have a patient she/he believes in need of acute care admitted to hospital for further evaluation and a second certificate if a hospital stay and treatment are called for.

Family members should contact the support coordinator at the Family Support Centre in West Vancouver, operated by the NSSS but covering all serious mental illness. NSSS has been providing services in Sea to Sky since 2008, including a support group. Family members should also register for NSSS's Family-to-Family education course, now being offered in Squamish. Family-to-Family is a powerful tool for those with a mentally ill loved-one, providing understanding of the illness, support, know-how, and the background necessary to work effectively with doctors and psychiatrists, Buttkus said.

There are a few immediate things about "suicidal ideation" - thoughts of suicide - to remember as well. Many people are scared to raise the subject of suicide when they are concerned about someone who may be in distress, on the mistaken assumption that asking will trigger a suicide, or even put the idea in someone's head.

According to experts, the opposite is true, Buttkus said. Many people who are thinking about suicide are relieved to have someone care enough to ask. Questions like, "Are you thinking about hurting yourself," and "How were you thinking of doing it," are not easy, but they could save someone's life, she said.

Another common myth is that when someone talks about suicide, he/she is looking for attention and is not serious. In fact, the "attention" the person is looking for is immediate and urgent help, and no suicide threat should be ignored.

The people left behind when someone dies by suicide often feel guilty, wondering if there was something they could have done - even when it is someone they weren't that close to. It's part of the grieving process, and should decrease over time. Attending a support group or one-on-one support sessions can help with the healing process and clarify feelings.

For immediate help for those who are thinking of hurting themselves, or are concerned about someone who may be in distress, call the 24-hour Crisis Centre Distress Line at 1-866-661-3311 or 1-800-784-2433 (Suicide). Families coping with serious mental illness of any kind should call the Family Support Centre at (604) 926-0856 for personal support, education, and other programs. For the support group in Squamish, call (604) 898-9372. Information on all serious mental illness, Family Support Centre programs, and other resources, is available at www.northshoreschizophrenia.org. Vancouver Coastal Health Mental Health and Addiction Services can be reached at (604) 698-6455 in Whistler and (604) 698-6491 in Pemberton. Child and Youth Mental Health can be reached at (604) 894-2091 or 1-866 823-5374.

For more information about corridor programs please email buttkus at Christine@northshoreschizophrenia.org

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