Saturday, 8 March 2014

Suicide Season

I received a phone call today on the cell phone I use for my private practice.  It was a woman, slurring her words, groggy, somewhat confused.

She told me her name and I had to have her repeat it three times before I could understand her.  She asked for someone I’d never heard of then asked if she’d ever called me before.

I said she hadn’t, and asked her what was wrong (it was obvious something was).

“I’ve taken a lot of pills.” she said, “I need some help.”

I tried to get her address and to have her call 911 for help, but she hung up.

I immediately called 911 myself and reported the conversation and gave them the number she had called from - it was a cell phone number and the call taker didn’t know how to locate the woman.

But within two minutes of making the report, I received a call from an RCMP Constable who wanted to know if I had any further information about the woman - I didn’t.  He said that they had tracked the cell number to a residence and that it was registered in her name.  While we were talking, he said that the paramedics had rolled up at the address and he was less than a minute away.

I was proud that our local RCMP and Paramedics responded so quickly and efficiently to intervene in a suicide.

This encounter put me in mind that we are rapidly approaching Suicide Season.

Popular belief is that suicide rates are higher in winter months, but the reality is that spring and early summer have the highest rates of attempted and completed suicides.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that suicide rates are lowest during the winter months and highest in the summer and spring, findings that have been corroborated by numerous studies, (Benedito-Silva et al, 2007; Bridges et al, 2005; Bazas et al. 1979).

Many psychologists suggest that spring is a symbolic time of renewal and change, and for those who struggle with depression, when there is no renewal or change, they lose hope.  Others suggest that after the deep depression of cloudy and cold winter months, the advent of more sunshine provides the depressed person more energy to plan and complete the complex task of suicide.

Whatever the reasons, we are about to enter the annual Suicide Season.  For men, spring is the most lethal season, while women have two peak times each year; spring and then again in autumn.

Canada ranks 40th overall worldwide for the number of suicides per capita, with 11.1 completed suicides per 100,000 people.   Greenland has the highest rate at 83 per 100,000, and Nepal the lowest at zero.

But the Canadian statistics hide an ongoing tragedy; Nanuvit’s completed suicide rate per 100,000 people is a staggering 71.  Which means if Nanuvit was a separate country it would be ranked number two over-all worldwide.

Age also stands out in statistics gathered about suicides; Men’s suicide rates peak in their 40s and again in their 90s; Women’s suicide rates peak in their 50s.

In Canada, suicide is the highest cause of violent death amongst adolescents.

What does all this mean for the average person?  Be aware of the warning signs;

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themself.
  • Looking for a way to kill themself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

And there is one sign that is difficult to spot; when a depressed person suddenly seems happy or content, visits friends and family, appearing to want to connect … or to say goodbye.  These may be the signs of someone who has made the decision to kill themself and is at peace with that decision.

If you suspect someone is suicidal, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it.  Don’t dance around the topic - if you suspect, ask them outright if they are thinking about killing themselves.  Listen to their reasons, empathize without arguing.  Tell them that you care about them and want to help them find relief from the emotions driving them to want to die.  Guilt and shame about leaving loved ones behind, or breaking a religious belief do not work - it only makes them feel worse.

Most important of all, don’t hesitate to contact their family members, or Doctor, or even the Police.  They may be angry that you interfered with their suicide plan.  But it’s better to have an angry family member or friend than a dead one.

Aaron D. McClelland, MMT, RPC -