What is Suicide?

Why Do People Suicide?

Suicide is a complex issue involving numerous factors and should not be attributed to any one single cause. Not all people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness and not all people with a mental illness attempt to end their lives by suicide.

People who experience suicidal thoughts and feelings are suffering with tremendous emotional pain. People who have died by suicide typically had overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, despair, and helplessness. Suicide is not about a moral weakness or a character flaw. People considering suicide feel as though their pain will never end and that suicide is the only way to stop the suffering.

Many factors and circumstances can contribute to someone’s decision to end his/her life. Factors such as loss, addictions, childhood trauma or other forms of trauma, depression, serious physical illness, and major life changes can make some people feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. It is important to remember that it isn’t necessarily the nature of the loss or stressor that is as important as the individual’s experience of these things feeling unbearable.

Suicide is Complex:

  • Suicide is the result of actions taken to deal with intolerable mental anguish and pain, fear or despair that overwhelms an individual’s value for living and hope in life.
  • While there is a well-established link between suicide and depression, each suicide occurs in a unique mix of complex interconnected factors, individual, environmental, biological, psychological, social, cultural, historical, political and spiritual, including psychological trauma (both developmental and intergenerational).

How Can Suicide Be Prevented

The majority of suicides can be prevented.  There are a number of measures that can be taken at community and national levels to reduce the risk, including:

  • Reducing access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, medication, guns).
  • Treating people with mental disorders (particularly those with depression, alcoholism, and schizophrenia).
  • Providing follow-up to people who have made suicide attempts.
  • Responsible media reporting.
  • Training primary health care workers.
  • Mental health promotion.

At a more personal level, it is important to know that only a small number of suicides happen without warning. Most people who die by suicide give definite warnings of their intentions. Therefore, all threats of self-harm should be taken seriously. In addition, a majority of people who attempt suicide are ambivalent and not entirely intent on dying. Many suicides occur in a period of improvement when the person has the energy and the will to turn despairing thoughts into destructive action. However, a once-suicidal person is not necessarily always at risk: suicidal thoughts may return but they are not permanent and in some people they may never return. Source: World Health Organziation (WHO) How can suicide be prevented?

Promoting Hope and Resiliency is Central to Suicide Prevention:

  • Hope and Resiliency should be reflected in all suicide prevention activities and messaging.

Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Responsibility:  

  • No single discipline or level of societal organization is solely responsible for Suicide Prevention; individuals in many roles and at all levels of community/society and government can and should contribute to the prevention of suicide related behaviours. Suicide Prevention therefore requires collaboration based on equality where no discipline or stakeholder is privileged over another.

How We Talk About Suicide Makes a Difference:

  • Language is key to caring, understanding, and being non­‐judgmental. When talking about suicide or suicide-related behaviors, the language of hope and comfort that helps to avoid stigmatization and shame excludes use of the terms “committed”, “successful suicide” or “failed suicide attempt”. Instead using terms such as “died by suicide”, “completed suicide attempt” are preferred. Suicide Prevention is aided by addressing the stigma of suicide and mental illness.

Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention (Hope, Help, and Healing) are the three areas of focus when working in the area of suicide.

They can be understood as the before, during and after experiences of thoughts of suicide, attempts or death. Everyone has a role and contribution to preventing suicide in one or more of these areas. You don’t have to be an expert. You do need to know how to take care of yourself and help another person get to safety if the need arises.

  • Prevention is the umbrella in working toward reducing deaths by suicide; increasing awareness, eliminating stigma, knowing what to do in the event that you or someone you know experiences thoughts or behaviors associated with suicide. It’s having the skills, awareness before someone is in crisis. In preventing suicide, intervention and postvention are components toward the goal of reducing suicides.
  • Intervention includes coping and intervening in the event that you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thinking or behaviors.
  • Postvention includes the skills and strategies for taking care of yourself or helping another person heal after the experience of suicide thoughts, attempts or death.

Certain Segments of Our Society, Especially Those Who Have Been Marginalized, are at Greater Risk of Suicide:

  • Marginalization, institutionalized trauma, colonialism, structural violence, racism, prejudice, acculturation, and homophobia have contributed to First Nations, Inuit and LGBTQ+ people having higher rates of suicide-related behaviors.
  • Older white males also have among the highest suicide rates with contributing factors including cultural expectations, and gender/societal roles.
  • Suicide prevention should cover the life span.

Societal Attitudes and Conditions Have a Profound Effect on Suicide and Suicide Prevention:

  • Suicide risk can be reduced with individual and societal commitments to social justice, equality and equity including but not limited to addressing and speaking out on such issues as stigma, homophobia, racism, institutional poverty, misogyny, abuse, oppression, and patriarchy along with ensuring access to effective and appropriate psychological and medical treatment and support.

Suicide Prevention Should be Imbedded Into the Mosaic of Community Resources:

  • Suicide Prevention operates most effectively when its activities are coordinated and integrated and takes the continuum of prevention, intervention, and postvention into account.

Suicide Prevention is Strengthened When it is Guided by the Principles of Trauma Informed Care:

  • There is a well-established link between psychological trauma and suicide.
  • Given the prevalence of psychological trauma in our society Project Semicolon believes suicide prevention should include a belief in the fundamental right for every person to receive services that are driven by the principles of trauma-informed care.

Knowing When and How to Ask about Suicide Saves Lives:

  • Every person can know when and how to ask about and talk to someone about suicide – just like we know what to do with physical pain.
  • Suicide Prevention requires the support of open and direct talk about suicide safety and training, to be comfortable in asking about suicide and helping in suicide risk situations regardless of station or discipline in the community.

Suicide Prevention Strategies and Programming Must be Knowledge-Based:

  • Knowledge-informed strategies are based in research, culture and lived experience.
  • Suicide prevention must be informed and guided through the pivotal role of bereaved survivors and those with lived experience of suicidality.
  • Suicide prevention requires a respect of our multicultural and diverse society that embrace a shared and mutual responsibility to support the dignity of human life and each person.

Suicide Prevention Leaders and Supporters Encourage Diverse Points of View:

  • Project Semicolon believes that suicide prevention leaders assume a responsibility to challenge and question our routine ways of thinking about suicide and have a curiosity and appreciation of diverse points of view.

 Commitment to a Community Based Approach:

  • Project Semicolon is committed to a co-community based life building/affirming, person-centered, and holistic approach to Suicide Prevention that recognizes the interconnectedness of the body, mind, and spirit.

Suicide & Mental Illness

There is no single mental illness diagnosis that is exclusively responsible for death by suicide. The majority of people who live with a mental illness do not attempt nor die by suicide.  Some estimated facts:

  • 85%-98% of people diagnosed with depression do not die by suicide.
  • 80%-97% of people diagnosed with bipolar illness do not die by suicide.
  • 85%-94% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia do not die by suicide.

Risk for death by suicide is increased if a person suffers from depression alongside schizophrenia, bipolar illness, substance abuse, anxiety disorders. Those who struggle with a diagnosed personality disorder can be up to 3x more likely to die by suicide then those without and, risk is increased if they also struggle with a substance abuse disorder.  It is important to get treatment for a mental illness.