Despite a growing awareness about mental health thanks to high profile media programs and a wide variety of educational programs offered in schools, corporations and to the public at large, the problem seems to be growing. The recently released Vital Signs report on the Greater Peterborough area reports that the number of people reporting good or excellent mental health is falling faster in Greater Peterborough than the average in Ontario. Recent suicide statistics confirm that mental health issues are escalating. To date, eleven people have ended their lives in the area, compared to a total of 2 in all of 2016. These records only include the attempts that have succeeded- there are many others whose attempts failed and may well try again.
Evidence shows that suicides come in clusters, and it’s probably not for the reasons you suspect. When someone commits suicide, the act is not the result of an impulsive, spontaneous decision. According to the Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention (OASP), suicide is usually a process, not an event. In other words, the decision to proceed has been arrived at over a long period of time. The suicide of someone they know can act like a trigger, making suicide an acceptable solution to their problems, in essence legitimizing this choice. If it was good for their acquaintance, it could be the right path for them.
The good news is that OASP that eight out of ten people who die by suicide have provided at least some indication of their intentions. So what signs should we be looking for?
According to Canadian Mental Health Association Education Co-coordinator Jack Veitch, you should trust your gut. If something tells you someone is suffering, reach out and talk to them. Common warning signs that someone is contemplating suicide is unusual behaviour, including significant changes in sleeping and eating patterns, mood swings, withdrawal, reckless behaviour, becoming unkempt or getting affairs in order and giving away valued possessions. The more signs displayed, the higher the risk. Obvious triggers include suffering a significant loss, life change or new health diagnosis.
What concerns local mental health professionals today is that some of the recent suicides victims showed no indications of their stress, which makes it difficult for them to help. What they do know is that statistics say that of those who attempt suicide, 80% will try it again and without intervention, 30% of them will die within a year.
A number of recent suicides in the local farm community has Jill Staples, who connects patients with health care providers and specialists through the Ontario Telemedicine Network, worried about stress in the agricultural community. This concern has support in agricultural organizations across the country, and gained profile in June when Kim Keller co-founder of Saskatchewan Women in Ag issued a tweet urging the agricultural community to do more to address mental health after the sudden suicide of a neighbour, saying “Farm stress is real, suicide is real.”
Farming is always challenging, but the stress level in the industry today is exacerbated by a number of factors, not the least of which is coming from south of the border. Threats to the beef and dairy sectors stemming from NAFTA renegotiations coupled with last year’s drought, and this year’s late start and early frost have many farmers worried about their future. Climate change and Donald Trump are forces over which they have little influence.
If you are worried that someone you know is considering suicide, professionals suggest that the first thing to do is to ask the person directly if they are considering suicide. Use the word, don’t avoid it. According to the OASP, saying it out loud sends a powerful that it is okay to talk about what they are feeling, that they are not alone, and that you care. They suggest that suicidal feelings are often less about wanting to die and more about feeling that they have run out of options and hope. The fear and shame surrounding these feeling keeps people isolated and prevent them from accessing help, allowing their fear, hopelessness and embarrassment to grow. Giving people permission to talk about suicide is the first step towards hope and almost always helps reduce the risk.
Once they start talking, get professional help. The problem is complicated and requires expertise. Local resources include help lines 4 Counties Crisis Line: 705-745-6484, or Telehealth Ontario: 1-866-797-0000.
For more information about local mental health programs and education, contact the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association at (705) 748-6711 or visit www.cmhahkpr.ca. KG