It is rare to find someone that hasn’t been affected by suicide. Perhaps a family member, friend or co-worker has taken their own life. Perhaps you’ve considered ending your life. No matter if you’ve been affected or not, the topic of suicide is very often considered taboo or very hard to talk about. Some startling statistics though make this a topic one that needs to be discussed amongst out communities, families and neighbourhoods.
As of 2011, an estimated over 800,000 people per year die by suicide which equates to a death every 40 seconds or about 3,000 every day.
According to WHO (World Health Organization) there are twenty people who have a failed suicide attempt for every one that is successful, at a rate approximately one every three seconds. They also report that suicide is the most common cause of death for people aged 15 – 24.
More people die from suicide than from murder and war and it is the 13th leading cause of death worldwide.
With the exception of China, men commit suicide more often than women. In the Western world, males die three to four times more often by means of suicide than females do.
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day and is recognized worldwide as a day to remember those that took their own lives, the families and friends effected by that and to begin the conversation around suicide. ‘Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives” was the theme of the 2015 WSPD (World Suicide Prevention Day).
Some local organizations came together to host Chestermere’s first organized event in support of WSPD at the Waiting Room Café on September 10, 2015. Chestermere FCSS and Alberta Health Services organized the event that was intended to those that have been lost to suicide and those who are struggling with suicide. Speakers included Mayor Patricia Matthews, MLA Leela Aheer, youth members of YELL – Jay, Paige and Emilie and Sherrie – a parent of a 19 year old boy that took his life 5 years ago. All of these remarkable speakers brought a different outlook to the topic suicide. The leaders of our community spoke to the impact that suicide has on a community as a whole. Mayor Matthews commented, “The loss of a loved one is always hard for family and friends to deal with but the loss due to suicide carries a stigma in society that isolates those when they need the support the most. Hosting the World Suicide Prevention Day event offers the opportunity for our community to learn more about preventing suicide, age ranges that are particularly vulnerable, and what some of the common misconceptions are about people contemplating this step as a way to end their pain. I’d encourage our entire community to learn more by contact our Synergy Group”.
The youth that spoke, ages 14, 15 and 16, gave very direct statements, telling parents and guardians what they as youth do and do not need when suicide comes up in conversation. 16 year old Paige spoke saying, “In reality, suicide plays a role in every teenager’s life. Even if you can’t see it, even if we can’t see it, does not mean it isn’t there. It still affects us. You might not see it in your own child because you tell us we can come talk to you no matter what. So when we don’t talk to you, you assume everything is fine. Or when we do come to you with our problems you think you can wave them away with a magic wand. We wish it worked like that but it doesn’t. We feel like we can’t come to you with our problems because, we don’t want to attract attention to ourselves, we don’t want you getting mad or dismissing us, you could overreact or you could underreact. That’s the truth. So instead we turn to each other, and that can be very hard on us, especially if we do not have the tools or the training we need to support one another. I feel restricted from getting the tools and training we need because I feel you think we aren’t old enough to handle suicide or that you might not be able to trust us. This isn’t true. We need those tools, as well as you because we need to deal with suicide, and we need your support in order to help each other in times of need, like dealing with suicide. It’s hard because I can’t help people the way I want to help them”.
Talking to teens about such a scary and emotional topic can be very difficult, so 14 year old Emilie spoke to that by saying, “As a parent or adult, here’s what we need you NOT to do when we come to you about suicide, whether it’s about us or about a friend. Don’t tell us we’re just being dramatic. Don’t dismiss our emotions or tell us that our feelings aren’t real. Don’t try to sugar coat the topic by softening your language. Don’t get angry with us or react defensively. Don’t make it about something you did or didn’t do. Don’t think “not my child…”
As a parent or adult, here’s what we need you to do when we come to you about suicide. Do take us seriously. Do understand that just because we smile sometimes doesn’t mean we’re doing okay. Do be blunt with the words you choose when talking about suicide. Say the word “suicide” and ask the question “are you thinking about killing yourself?” Practice so that you’re ready, even if you never need to have the conversation. Do listen to us without being judgemental. It’s okay to be shocked and caught off guard but do try to be calm and understanding. Do understand that this is not your fault and this doesn’t mean you failed at parenting. Do understand that we are still kids and we need you to be the adult and to take responsibility in getting us help and support. Do reach out for external supports for us and for you. Most importantly, tell us you support us no matter what”.
We all know that in a lot of situations, the young people in our community are more likely to talk to each other about what they are going through rather than talking to a parent or other adult. 15 year old Jay added, “If you are a teen or pre-teen and you are thinking about killing yourself I want you to know that you are not alone. Lots of people think about suicide. It doesn’t make you a freak or abnormal or mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s okay to feel crappy. You don’t always have to pull up your shorts or grow a thick skin. What you do need to do is find someone you can talk to and to create a plan to keep safe when you’re having suicidal thoughts. Plan ahead of time so it’s all ready for you when you need it. What works for one person might not work for the next so your plan needs to be unique to you and what you need. Your plan should include an adult you trust to take some of the pressure off you. I’m not going to say “it gets better” or “your family will miss you” or “if you do this it’ll hurt me or your friends or your family” because I understand that’s not helpful to you right now. I’m going to admit that I don’t always know what the right thing to say is and I bet adults don’t always know either. Don’t be too hard on them. Help them understand the pain you are in so that they can help you. Life is too short to spend another day at war with yourself”.
Another touching perspective came when Sherrie, a mother of a boy who took his own life 5 years ago stood to speak. With her sons photo proudly pinned to her blouse, she spoke of the roller-coaster of emotions that they as a family went through when her son took his life. “When someone in your life loses someone to suicide, nothing you will say will make them feel better. Don’t distance yourself from them because you don’t know what to say. Just be there for them. Be present”, said Sherrie.
The keynote speaker of the evening was Christie Mellan with the Canadian Mental Health Association. She spoke of her own personal connection with suicide and how she has taken that and her own healing and now puts it into educating and helping others who are dealing with suicide. Mellan discussed alarming statistics and provided many educational tools on how to help someone in your life that is considering ending their life.
This moving event ended with a tree planting and candle lighting ceremony just as the sun was setting. Guests were asked to light a candle and pay their respects to those that have taken their own life or those that have lost someone to suicide. Members of Chestermere Fire Services were in attendance and also Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society had a few of their therapy dogs on hand.
Often the stigma around mental illness and suicide prevents people from reaching out and seeking support and it is the hopes of the organizers of this event and those local agencies that were involved that people in our community that find themselves dealing with these issues will reach out. If you need someone to talk to, contact Community Resource Centre at 403-207-7079 or csinfo@chestermere. ca