TORONTO — Approximately 4,000 people die by suicide in Canada every year, or nearly 11 people per day.
In an effort to change that statistic, particularly this year when the COVID-19 pandemic is taking an additional toll on Canadians’ mental health, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto is introducing a new campaign to raise awareness about the issue.
The campaign “Not Suicide. Not Today.” was launched on World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10 and will feature empowering stories from real people who have suffered from mental illness, including addiction, and how they have recovered.
“‘Not suicide. Not today.’ is the pledge that we can take as an organization… that all of us can take as friends, as family, as a community to say that we want to do everything we can to make today the last day you lose someone to suicide,” Juveria Zaheer, a CAMH psychiatrist and researcher, told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
“I think suicide has always been shrouded in darkness and stigma and shame and if we could change that and encourage people to get help, we would have done our job.”
Zaheer said it’s particularly important to focus on this subject this year because there are already indications that the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health.
“I think this situation with the pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime. But we know that the pandemic is a trauma and trauma is a risk factor for suicide. Things like social isolation, financial distress, fear and anxiety are all things that worry us,” she explained.
While Zaheer said it’s still too early to know the full effects of the pandemic on people’s mental well-being, she said she’s already seeing the first signs of it.
“I know that as a suicide researcher, people have spoken to me more about suicide and suicide prevention in the last six months than ever before,” she said.
Despite the extra challenges this year, Zaheer said she believes society has made great strides in the past decade in understanding that mental health is health and that it deserves attention and treatment. She said the next step is to normalize conversations about suicide so people who are contemplating it will feel comfortable accessing help.
“I do think when it comes to suicide, that for cultural reasons, or for fear, or a sense of mystery, people are really scared to talk about this particular issue,” she said. “I think this is the next step in making sure that we have a system that works for everyone and that we can create a world where every life feels worth living.”
Zaheer said it’s important for people to pay attention to their friends and family and to look for any warning signs that they may be in distress.
“If you have a loved one who is seeming different to you, if their mood is maybe different, if they’re more agitated or irritable, if they can’t sleep at night, if they’re isolating themselves socially, if they just don’t seem themselves, it’s always the right decision to reach out to say, ‘I love you. Are you OK? How can I help?’” she said.
For those who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts themselves, Zaheer encouraged them to seek help.
“Remember that you matter, and your life matters, and there is hope and there is help,” she said.
“If you feel safe in the moment or your loved ones feel safe in the moment, we encourage you to reach out to your family physician who can help you navigate the mental health-care system. And if you don’t feel safe in the moment, the best thing to do is to go to your nearest emergency department.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.
Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)
Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)
Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)
If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
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