Suicide is the most tragic result of unmanaged mental illness.
It is utterly devastating for family and loved ones to face loss of this kind and a terribly sad and frightening experience for those who feel so hopeless that suicide becomes the only way they can conceive of to end their pain.
Unfortunately, suicide and thoughts of suicide are not as uncommon as you may think. A recent report in the US by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found one in 13 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reported experiencing serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.
This is not a problem unique to the Unite States. In B.C., there are roughly 500 completed suicides every year and one in 25 Canadians will attempt suicide during their lifetime. Some statistics also show roughly two thirds of high school students will consider suicide before they graduate – and suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in Canada.
These are troubling statistics representing large numbers of people experiencing significant mental and emotional anguish and likely in need of appropriate intervention and support.
We know that as many as 90 percent of people who complete suicide experience mental health issues such as depression, substance abuse or other disorders. Feelings of hopelessness is named as the single most accurate predictor of suicide and a common symptom of several psychiatric disorders.
Some warning signs for suicide include recent attempts or other forms of self harm; talking or joking about suicide; risk-taking behaviour; deliberate self-harm such as cutting; expressing feelings of hopelessness about the future; withdrawal from friends, family and activities; substance abuse; self-neglect; hearing voices; giving away possessions; and questioning own worth.
A common misconception is that people who threaten suicide or make non-lethal attempts are simply trying to get attention. This is not usually the case. Most people who talk or behave in such ways are reaching out for help. Don’t be afraid to discuss the subject. Talking about the feelings will not push a person over the edge.
If someone you love is considering suicide, tell them they’re important to you and that you don’t want to say goodbye. Seek professional advice immediately and get your loved one some much needed help.
As I have said before, we also need to continue to challenge negative stigma surrounding mental health issues and their treatment. No one should feel ashamed to seek help or avoid doing so for fear of social or work consequences. Mental health issues are not the result of personal weakness or lack of character. These are real health issues that can be managed with appropriate professional help.
Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.