Friday, 16 September 2016 16:03

Suicide and mental health are issues we need to take seriously

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When I was younger and more naive, I assumed anyone who committed suicide was foolish, and above all, selfish. I know a lot of people think this way. I did.

It’s because of ignorance due to a lack of information about the causes of suicide attempts.
It isn’t because people are doing the ultimate “stick it” to those who shunned them or just in a twisted way want attention. It’s easy to chastise what we don’t understand.
I remember when I was a reporter in Taber, Alberta, a community heavily dependent on the petroleum and food processing and agriculture sectors for employment and the engine of the economy, there was a rash of suicides in a short time frame.
I couldn’t understand what would possess someone to take his or her own life. I always thought, once that’s done, there’s no second chances. If you commit suicide, you haven’t given yourself an opportunity. How idiotic, not to mention all of the pain put on those who love the person. To me, that was pure selfishness. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized it wasn’t as simple as that.
According to the Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention, “Experts in the field suggest that a suicidal person is feeling so much pain that they can see no other option. They feel that they are a burden to others, and in desperation see death as a way to escape their overwhelming pain and anguish. The suicidal state of mind has been described as constricted, filled with a sense of self-hatred, rejection, and hopelessness.”
Statistics provided by the Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention adds the percentage of the Canadian population who experiences a major depressive episode in a given year has been estimated at between five to 8.2 per cent (Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2013) with the lifetime risk of suicide among people with untreated depression ranges from 2.2 to as high as 15 per cent. Depression is present in at least 50 per cent of all suicides.
They also state in Canada approximately 11 people will end their lives by suicide each and every day. In 2012, the year with the latest figures available, 3,926 Canadians died by suicide. Of those, 2,972 were males and 954 were females.
The suicide rate overall was 11.3 per 100,000.
For males the rate was 17.3 per 100,000 and for females the rate was 5.4 per 100,000.
For every death by suicide among Albertans in 2010 there were 1,833 attempted suicide/self-inflicted injury-related hospital admissions.
Those are alarming numbers. How does it get to this point? Are people that self-withdrawn? At what point does a traumatic event push someone to that point of wanting to eliminate themselves? How do we know the signs?
It’s due to a lack of knowledge: not only on the affected person’s part to “heal thyself”, but also around the person’s supporting cast to provide assistance. This is not to lay blame on anyone specifically because as a society mental health isn’t something which has traditionally been formally addressed or taught. That is changing for the better. Hopefully the stigma attached to addressing mental health issues and suicide is also changing. 
Unfortunately, mental health is still a mainly taboo subject. No one wants to admit they have mental health issues, nor do they want anyone to know they need care, let alone they have a problem, hence effected individuals have been fighting a battle alone with no training. Nor do their helpless friends and family know what to do.
The whole stigma of suffering with mental illness needs to change.
That’s why days such as World Suicide Awareness Day (Sept. 9) are important and why Kids Help Phone, #BellTalks, the upcoming Cliff Canter Glow Run Oct. 15 at Echodale; the efforts of Ruth Smith and all of the hard work from the Swift Current chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association volunteers with the 20th annual Jimmy Richardson Family Picnic and Walk, Sept. 10, and the initiatives from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Southeast Alberta are so critical.
Since my days in Taber, I’ve seen three people I have known lose their lives to suicide as well as learn of a family member's attempts. It hits close to home. I admit, I didn’t know too much before and I’m far from an expert now, but I have made the attempt to garner a little knowledge at least.
Those suffering with mental illness or thoughts of suicide aren’t selfish, ‘psycho’, ‘simple-minded’, ‘crazy’ or ‘losers’. They are real people. Mental health is different but it needs to have the same respect as “regular” injuries or ailments.
You have no idea what is causing the problems. It’s not just an extended bad day, or a person needs to “lighten up”; “grow up” or “man up” or whatever simple-minded diagnosis can provide.
Suicide attempts and poor mental health don’t happen overnight, and subsequently they need time to diagnose and treat. The problem is that we try to best explain a mental illness the same way we would a short-term emotion. It’s never that easy.
The stigma needs to end. People need to become informed. Don’t make the same mistakes I made. Learn what you can. With the internet, worthwhile organizations which only up until recently weren’t able to get their voices and information out there, are finding their voices. Listen to them, they have a lot to say and some valuable information.
Visit  Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention (; as well as local chapters of Canadian Mental Health Association Swift Current: or southeast Alberta:
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece by emailing him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor