Latimer: Battle stigma of mental illness
Suicide is the darkest face of mental illness. It is tragic when someone takes their own life in a desperate bid to end mental suffering.
In Canada, about 4,000 people die as a result of suicide each year and many more attempt to end their lives.
We know that at least 90 percent of individuals who commit suicide are known to experience some form of mental illness or substance abuse disorder. We also know suicide is likely preventable in the majority of cases.
A recent review of studies related to suicide among individuals with depression and bipolar disorder was published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. It offers some consolidated information about the underlying reasons and risk factors for suicide. When these factors are understood, we may have a better chance of developing effective suicide prevention strategies.
Among individuals with bipolar disorder, the lifetime risk of completed suicide is between five and six per cent. In depressed individuals the risk is a little higher.
Not surprisingly, people with these conditions experience a 20-40-fold increase in suicide attempts during active major depressive episodes than when they are not in a depressed state.
This leads to the obvious conclusion that one of the most likely ways to prevent suicide is to effectively treat depression – reducing the duration and frequency of mood episodes.
Other risk factors in suicide attempts include co-existing substance use or personality disorders, feelings of hopelessness and aggressive or impulsive traits. Childhood adversity and current life events are also risk factors as is the feeling of having little social support.
Identifying and observing these risk factors in individuals with depression and bipolar disorder gives us a tool to use when determining a person’s likelihood of attempting suicide.
This study did not examine studies of the effectiveness of treatment or other intervention at preventing suicide. More research in this area would likely prove useful from a clinical perspective.
In my view, one of the most important ways we can prevent the tragedy of suicide, is to continue to battle the stigma that often surrounds mental illness. In order to reach out for help, a person needs to feel as though they will not be judged or penalized for their illness. Our societal goal should be to create an environment where seeking help for a mental illness is no different from seeing your doctor for other chronic health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one are feeling hopeless and considering suicide, please know there is help available in our community. Speak to your doctor and get professional help immediately. You don’t need to continue suffering.