I saw a quote that read “Today inspires us to speak up and not allow shame to silence us” and I immediately recognized the deep truth in those words.
With today being World Suicide Prevention Day, it’s a day to speak up, to shed light on a local and global epidemic and continue the shift towards building more inclusive, supportive, accepting communities.
The hope is that we can start reversing the stats on suicide that see it as the 2nd leading cause of death for Canadians age 15-24; and how 800,000+ people around the world die by suicide every year; and how that’s more than all wars combined, and yet how much attention and resources does suicide prevention receive compared to wars or potential wars?
Suicide prevention is a big and complex topic, and we can’t assume the stats will reverse with a blog post here or even a day dedicated to it each year.
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I do believe suicide is one of humanity’s great challenges that we will eventually overcome and solve, but how and when are big unknowns. Will it be in 10-20 years, or 100-200 years, or beyond? Will solutions involve such surveillance that the costs of lost privacy outweigh the benefits?
I’m not sure in terms of the long term, but I know there are a few things we can do on a macro level and a few things we can do on a micro level.
Let’s start with the macro…
- Shift Culture: We have a culture of shame and embarrassment and ‘feeling like a burden’ that prevents us from talking about our mental health challenges. It’s noticeably worse for men as stats show that around 70% of completed suicides are by men. We’ve noticed the shift starting and there are definitely pockets of acceptance and openness, but there’s a lot of progress still to be made here
- Shift Media: Media plays a big role in culture and peoples’ perception of things. With mental health it is no different. Media – weather news or movies or TV has historically reinforced the negative and fear-inducing stereotypes of mental illness – whether through sensationalized news stories or horror movies depicting the mentally ill. The stats show a different story. For example, it turns out the people living with schizophrenia – one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses – when treated are no more violent than the average person. Like our culture, the media is shifting in a positive direction with its mental health coverage / features, but we still need to see more positive reporting and less sensationalized content.
- Shift Policy: There are many policies that impact our mental health in both positive and negative ways. Something I believe we need to shift here is to build in far more flexibility into the mental health system. For example age limits on care, location requirements for receiving care and cost barriers all contribute to worse outcomes – especially for youth and young adults who struggle with their mental health. With more flexibility, it’s more likely that whoever needs the supports will receive them.
In term of the micro, as individuals, here are some thoughts…
- Wellness Kit: For years, I’ve carried around an imaginary ‘wellness kit’ with me wherever I go. It’s sometimes physical things like extra meds or a water bottle or headphones, and sometimes less tangible things like an exit plan or knowing who I can call on if I start to struggle (especially important while travelling). My wellness kit changes day by day and depending on what activity I’m doing – running around town, going on an adventure, travelling, etc.. but I’m always keeping in mind what I need or might need to stay well and avoid stumbling back into struggle mode
- Wellness Council: The idea here is to build and nurture a small group of people in your life that you can trust and rely on in good times and bad. To celebrate the wins and help you up when you’re down. People that you keep in touch with around how you’re doing health-wise and in terms of your goals and dreams. People that see your potential and believe in you. This is a long term pursuit and often an ever-evolving group as people come in and out of our lives. Key here is to make sure the relationships are mutually-beneficial – ie not always leaning on the other person and being there for them for the ups and downs as they are there for you. Again, this ‘council’ isn’t built overnight, but is well worth the effort and time invested.
- Wellness Habits: This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this past few weeks… how so much of the health and wellness field talks about and promotes the latest and greatest health hacks and innovations. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s also something to be said for dialling in some key health and wellness foundations as habits. If you know me well, you know I’m a smoothie fanatic. While I’m also known to enjoy a burger and chips and won’t say no to some celebratory cake, I make sure to drink a smoothie for breakfast at least 4-5 days a week – which infuses nutrients into my body like few things can. So with these wellness habits, we’re talking less acupuncture and cryotherapy, and more daily habits like what you eat, how you move, rest, mindfulness and your social life. I believe these foundations are a core part of maintaining a healthy mind and hence, help us avoid slipping downhill toward mental health struggles and suicidality, though they are so ’normal’, that we often overlook them and think we need some advanced, innovative solution. Dial in these habits over time and when you find yourself off track with them, instead of beating yourself up, just right the ship and get back on track.
I hope this article has provided some clarity or insights or ideas to you, whether you’re a policy maker, someone with lived experience, or someone who’s keen to combat the global suicide epidemic we’re experiencing.
Please share this post on your social media and as one of our community members suggested in a post today, we invite you to check in with 1-3 friends / people in your life. Sometimes just touching base with a quick text is all it takes to feel more connected and nurture our relationships.
And if you are at all feeling suicidal or concerned about your mental health, we’ve listed some supports and resources below…
- Suicide hotline: 1. 1-800-668-6868
- Kids Help Phone Website: https://kidshelpphone.ca/
- Crisis Centre: https://crisiscentre.bc.ca/get-help/
- Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre (British Columbia): https://keltymentalhealth.ca/
- Foundry (British Columbia): https://foundrybc.ca/
- National Suicide Prevention website: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- National Suicide Prevention number: 1.800.273.8255
- International Suicide Hotlines: https://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines