Digital wellness / October 09, 2019

World Mental Health Day and Suicide Prevention Awareness

Carol Todd

Carol Todd

Parent, educator, and mental health and online safety advocate

World Mental Health Day Hero

As the mother of a child who died by suicide caused by relentless online bullying, I’ve devoted much of my time since Amanda Todd’s death on October 10, 2012 to help families dealing with mental health issues, cyberbullying and suicide. I’m an avid supporter of World Mental Health Day, which coincides with the date of Amanda’s passing, and given the sobering stats around suicide in Canada, it is fitting that this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention.

An average of ten people die by suicide each day in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Furthermore, it’s the second leading cause of death for children, youth and young adults aged 10-29. And, over ninety percent of those who die by suicide lived with a mental health illness.

I’m confident that together we can educate one another on these critical challenges, understand the risks, know the signs and what to do about them. I’m a firm believer that increased awareness about suicide and suicide prevention can help drive positive change. We all have a role to play and I know that together we can save lives.

Suicide prevention: how can you help?

It isn’t expected that we are all experts on mental health and an acute crisis like suicide, but there are strategies that we can and should be aware of to help end the stigma and assist in a time of crisis.

One of the first and most critical steps to suicide prevention is ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. Whether it be comments about how individuals with mental health challenges are ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’, or perceptions that suicide is ‘selfish’ or ‘cowardly’, it is these negative attitudes that present a significant barrier for those experiencing crisis to seek help. Often, individuals who are thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide do not ask for help because they feel so isolated by stigma, and maybe even fear that their friends/family won’t know how to respond if they do reach out for help.

Once we move past attitudes and behaviours that may present a barrier to accessing help, it’s vital that we are prepared and knowledgeable on how to help if we know someone who is struggling with mental illness and/or someone who is contemplating suicide:

  • Reach out. Initiate a conversation and listen with an open mind. Know that asking about suicide or one’s intentions does not provoke the act. In fact, the opposite is true; the conversation can help reduce anxiety.
  • Alert close family or friends who may not be aware in order to broaden the available support network.
  • Connect them with a professional. There are incredible professional supports in place for those with mental illness (e.g doctor, counsellor, mental health professional). If someone is in immediate need of help, engage crisis lines and/or emergency services.
  • Stay in touch and continue to show your support by checking in regularly. A common fear for individuals suffering is that they will lose touch with the people closest to them. Help them feel loved and cared for.

If you know someone who may be considering suicide, or if you feel like your own life is not worth living, please contact Crisis Services Canada, 24/7 at 1.833.456.4566, or by text at 45645 between 4pm-12am ET. You can also contact Kids Help Phone 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868 or by texting "CONNECT" to 686868. Additional crisis lines and support services can be found in the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention’s online directory.

Self harm, suicide and the Internet

Unfortunately for Amanda, her experience with the digital world played a role in her distress. Cyberbullying and sextortion remain concerns and there are now emerging concerns about online communities in which self-harm and suicide are encouraged. Although some of these pages have thousands of followers, fortunately, the vast majority of youth do not visit such sites. Research suggests that these online communities are used by those who are looking to better understand existing self-harm behaviours or suicidal thoughts, and seek connections and support from those with similar experiences.

In any case, it is promising to see how tech and social media companies are taking steps to support our collective efforts around suicide prevention. For instance, search engines take steps to de-index pro self-harm and suicide-related content, and social media platforms use artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and respond to individuals who are in imminent danger of suicide. Social media companies have also taken steps to make it easier for users to flag potentially concerning posts from their friends/connections. (Read more about how Facebook AI uses social media activity to identify people who are potentially in need of help).

If you see a post on social media that suggests someone may be contemplating suicide:

  • If you know who and where they are, contact emergency services on their behalf.
  • Reach out to them in any way you can to express your concern and offer support.
  • Flag the post to the social media platform so that the platform can offer support as well - this may include connecting the individual with friends and/or advising them about support services in their area.

Join us in our efforts to raise awareness and drive change

A year after my daughter’s death, and in honour of her favourite colour, the Amanda Todd Legacy launched the Light up Purple campaign to raise awareness about World Mental Health Awareness Day, encourage conversations and awareness about mental health, and reduce the stigma associated with mental health and suicide.

This year, in support of World Mental Health Day and Light up Purple, I encourage you and others you know to get involved:

  • Wear purple on October 10, 2019.
  • Share a message about World Mental Health Day and/or Light up Purple on social media. Use hashtags #LightUpPurple and #WMHD2019.
  • Take time to learn more about suicide: the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Crisis Services Canada and World Health Organization websites are good resources.
  • Consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course, offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada; the course can help you identify potential signs for mental health concerns and enable you to offer support while someone waits for care, in much the same way a CPR course empowers you to assist someone while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Other learning options include LivingWorks SafeTalk and Centre for Suicide Prevention workshops (offered in Alberta).
  • Be kind online and stand up for others when you witness cyberbullying. Together we can #EndBullying. TELUS Wise offers a number of free, online workshops for youth on digital safety and citizenship, including the newest workshop, TELUS Wise happiness, which empowers youth with knowledge on how to maintain their well-being in our hyper-connected, digital world.

And perhaps most importantly, reach out to a friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or anyone who may be struggling, lend an ear and offer support. If you #SeeSomethingSaySomething. It’s our moral responsibility as human beings to be there for others. You never know, you may save a life and it’s a good feeling.

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