Approximately 4,000 Canadians die by suicide each year, and they estimate four times that amount of people have attempted suicide. That doesn’t even include people who are thinking about suicide but not acting on those thoughts. That’s a lot of people having suicidal ideation! And oh the shame these people feel. They are sometimes so ashamed they don’t speak to anyone about their suicidal thoughts and then they end up committing suicide. Can you imagine that?? What if someone’s arm fractured and they didn’t want to go get medical treatment because they were too embarrassed about the status of their arm?! Now that would be wild!
Like any difficulty, there is a lot to understand about suicide. The focus of this information is to attempt to decrease stigma by understanding why it occurs, how psychologists assess suicide, and to highlight how stigma negatively impacts seeking treatment.
Suicide is our brain’s way of finding a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. Ninety percent of people who have committed suicide have also had Major Depressive Disorder (the true diagnostic name for depression.) When people are feeling so overwhelmed with hopelessness about who they are, the world around them, their future – they feel there is no way out. Our brain is designed to problem solve. Through the distorted lens of depression, our brain figures out that we can escape this distress by taking our own lives. Most people with suicidal thoughts don’t want to die – if you could wave a magic wand and silence their self-critical, anxious and/or low-mood thoughts and feelings, they would gladly take that option. However, when you don’t have the tools to change your symptoms, and you are not talking to anybody to help you problem solve because you are too ashamed, death may feel like the only option.
It is important to understand how Psychologists assess suicide in order to understand yourself or a loved one. To be clear – intervention should occur at any and all of these stages. First, we assess if the suicidal thoughts are passive or active. Passive thoughts do not involve a plan or intent. Examples: “It would be easier for my loved ones if I wasn’t here.” and “It would be great if I didn’t wake up in the morning.” Active thoughts involve a plan. It’s important to know if people have thought about how they would do it, have access to the method they chose, have started accessing the things they need, are rehearsing how they would do it, and if they have been tying up loose ends. After this, we want to know if someone has intent to commit suicide. People do not want to commit suicide for all sorts of important reasons. Examples: impact on their loved ones and/or pets, knowing that all things change and how they feel is not forever, not wanting to be dead, etc. There is a reason we have assessment tools for suicide – it’s a common difficulty!
Knowing facts about suicide can assist you with empathizing with yourself or others, versus sitting in judgment. Openly communicating about suicide doesn’t increase the likelihood of it occurring. Talking about factual information helps decrease stigma and increase the likelihood that someone having these types of thoughts will reach out for help. So – Let’s talk!