Committee tackling suicide seeks to draw attention to prevention

MANITOULIN — Last week’s Expositor featured a public service advertisement highlighting the alarming statistics around suicides on Manitoulin Island, pointing out that our little corner of paradise has seen 35 deaths officially classified as suicides between 2005 and 2012, over twice the national suicide rate per year. Tomorrow (Thursday, September 10) is World Suicide Prevention Day and those statistics are very conservative numbers, notes local mental health worker Alison Hall.

The Manitoulin Suicide Prevention committee, a subcommittee of the Island’s Addictions and Mental Health committee, one of three subcommittees made made up of local service providers from across Manitoulin, is seeking to take the focus off the numbers and place it on identifying those at risk of taking their own lives and providing the community with the skills to recognize the danger signs and build the skills needed to support prevention efforts in the community.

“It is just one step towards taking care of each other, our neighbours and community members,” said Ms. Hall. The committee hopes to do this by raising awareness, creating community resilience and education.

To this end, the advertisement this week focussed on knowing the warning signs, pointing out that suicide is preventable.

“There is a simple acronym that can help people remember the warning signs,” said Ms. Hall. “That acronym is IS PATH WARM.”

The letters stand for “Ideation, or thinking about/talking about wanting to die; Substance abuse—which increases impulsivity, hopelessness and therefore the risk of suicide; Purposelessness—a sense of having no reason for living; Anxiety—living with high levels of worry and often expressed by not sleeping; Trapped—essentially feeling as though a person has no options or solutions to the problem(s) facing them in their lives; Hopelessness or Helplessness—a feeling as though a situation cannot improve, or that one is powerless to change it; Withdrawal—from family, friends and interests; Anger—feeling out of control and or possibly revenge-seeking; Recklessness—exhibiting increased risk-taking behaviour or a lack of regard for safety; Mood Changes—pervasive feelings of sadness or depression, irritability, and perhaps a sudden sense of resolve.

If you or a loved one, or even a casual acquaintance or neighbour, is exhibiting the above signs, you can take action by calling the crisis helpline. Most families, whether they are aware of it or not, have someone in their family who has contemplated, attempted or succeeded in committing suicide. The crisis in any community is often not readily evident, even to those who regularly follow the media, as most media outlets follow an oft-unspoken rule of not reporting on suicides as media reports tend to lead to a type of contagion, where a cascade of suicides take place following the news story. There is also a desire to be respectful of the survivors, those families who have lost a family member to suicide.

“Even people in the system have no way of knowing,” said Ms. Hall, as information silos prevent communication of those deaths that are suspected to have been suicides.

Currently there is a project underway to investigate those numbers, thanks to funding for the Northeastern Suicide Prevention Network for a research proposal by two psychiatrists from Sunnybrook Hospital that will help determine the size and scope of the problem.

A number of presentations will be held at local high schools on September 10 and 11 by Canadian Mental Health, taking place at Manitoulin Secondary School, Espanola High School and at Wikwemikong High School. There will also be a launch of a new app—the Be Safe App can be downloaded to a smartphone by simply scanning the QR code, following the simple credo of “Mind Your Mind.”

If you suspect that you or someone you love needs help, please call the Crisis Line at 705-368-0756, Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4 pm or by calling any time of the day or night, 24/7 at 1-877-841-1101.