Suicide: prevention is the key

Suicide isn’t a topic most people want to talk about. New program will train 20,000 gatekeepers by 2018

Suicide isn’t a topic most people want to talk about, but odds are you know someone who has attempted or died by suicide.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, over 3500 Canadians die by suicide each year, with approximately 500 per year in B.C. However, that number could be even higher as both the stigma attached to suicide and the likelihood that some deaths classified as accidents are actually suicides contribute to an overall underestimation of those numbers.

According to health minister Terry Lake, suicide does not discriminate.

“It affects individuals young and old and their families in every corner of this province,” he said. “Prevention is a shared responsibility and we all have the potential to make a difference and save a life.”

The province recently announced $3 million in funding to support the work of the Canadian Mental Health Association British Columbia Division in preventing suicide.

The new program of the association uses a training model called ‘emergent gatekeeper,’ which will equip people with the information they need to identify and help those at risk for suicide.

It is expected that 20,000 gatekeepers will be trained around B.C. by 2018.

Gatekeepers are not necessarily health professionals, but can also be those in a role of trust such as teachers, coaches, police officers or clergy, who are positioned to encourage those in need to reach out.

“Whether a gatekeeper is a teen watching for warning signs among his friends, a teacher in a busy school who notices changes in one of her students, or a member of a church group who is connected to the community, this funding will help all of them to learn what to watch for and how to help those in need,” said Jane Thornthwaite, Parliamentary Secretary for Child Mental Health and Anti-Bullying.

The training program will be rolled out throughout B.C. over the next three years. In the first year, the Canadian Mental Health Association British Columbia Division will partner with health authorities to begin the program with communities that have already demonstrated an interest. In years two and three, the program will expand to communities province wide.

Factors can put someone at higher risk

Although suicide occurs across all age, economic, social and ethnic boundaries, there are a number of factors that can put someone at higher risk of committing suicide.

One of these factors is age. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in B.C., Canada and worldwide, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“Stress, loneliness, fighting with family or friends, feelings of not measuring up and a loss of hope for the future can all contribute to youth feeling overwhelmed, and may lead them to consider suicide as a way out.”

In B.C., the average age of people who die by suicide is about 47, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Men over the age of 80 have the highest rate of suicide.

“A shrinking circle of friends, the death of a spouse or a major illness can all lead to depression and in turn lead to suicide.”

Aboriginal elders are an exception to this trend. While many Aboriginal communities have rates of suicide that are much higher than the general population, some Aboriginal communities have rates of suicide that are very low or zero.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says that those communities with low rates of suicide are those that are working towards self-governance, are actively engaged in settling their land claims, have recovered many traditional practices and enjoy greater control over the delivery of local services.

In Canada, there are three male suicides for every female death by suicide. However, women are more likely than men to attempt suicide. Women tend to choose less violent forms of suicide, leaving more opportunity for rescue.

The Canadian Mental Health Association also says that up to 90 per cent of people who take their own lives have depression, substance use problems or another mental illness – whether diagnosed or not – at the time of their suicide.

How to identify someone at risk


Most people who take their own lives show some noticeable signs that they are thinking about it beforehand.

There are 10 warning signs that experts suggest you should watch out for:

• Talked about or threatened to hurt or kill themselves, or looked for ways to do it;

• Increased their use of alcohol or other drugs;

• Mentioned having no reason to live or no purpose in life;

• Showed increased anxiety and changes in sleep patterns;

• Talked about feeling trapped, like there’s no way out;

• Expressed feeling hopeless about the future;

• Withdrawn from friends, family members or activities they enjoy;

• Shown uncontrolled anger or say they want to seek revenge;

• Experienced dramatic changes in their mood.

What can you do to help?


It is important to directly ask the person if they are considering suicide, according the Canadian Mental Health Association.

This shows that you are taking their feelings seriously, and helps to establish if the risk for suicide is real.

“You won’t be putting the idea in the person’s head; if they are thinking about it, they will likely be relieved to tell someone.”

You can ask a direct question such as, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

It’s also important to listen to the person – without judgment and by showing empathy. You can reassure the person by saying, “You are really important to me,” or “it’s reasonable to feel like you do, but I can help you find other solutions.”

If the person says they are considering suicide, you need to get help for that person by enlisting the help of professionals such as a family doctor, a mental health professional or a 24-hour crisis line. It is also important to enlist familial, friendship and social supports.

If you think someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 911. Do not leave them alone until they have been assessed and received help from a competent and trustworthy professional, or until another trustworthy adult arrives to stay with them.

For free assistance 24 hours a day, call 1-800-SUICIDE, or 1-800-784-2433.

Lakes District residents can consult with two mental health clinicians at the Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre. To schedule an appointment, call 250-692-2412.

The Lakes District Community Services Society (LDCSS) offers mental health counselling to children and youth. Clinicians provide assessment, treatment and referrals for children and youth experiencing significant distress and impaired functioning at home or at school. Services are provided at the LDCSS office in Burns Lake, as well as in schools in Decker Lake, Grassy Plains and Francois Lake. For more information, call 250-692-7577.

Carrier Sekani Family Services offers mental health services to children, youth and their families in the Bulkley Valley and the Lakes District area, with support based out of Burns Lake.

For more information, contact  Gordon Poschwatta at 250-692-2387.