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September 10 is an opportunity to take part in World Suicide Prevention Day by taking some time to raise our awareness about suicide and what we can do to support those who may be struggling. The day also honours survivors and remembers those who have died.

This year’s theme is “Creating Hope Through Action” with the aim to work together to create a movement of preventative action, to recognize the impact of suicide, and to share resources and support for those who are struggling. The experts tell us that even small actions can make a huge difference in preventing suicide.

As mental health, substance use, and housing availability have worsened in our community, now more than ever it is important to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and provide support to those who need it.

Suicide is complex and the experts don’t have all the answers. It can be difficult to understand, especially when we are unaware a person is struggling and there is no one universal sign to tell us that a person may be struggling. But we do know a lot about the statistics. We also know that there are effective treatments that provide hope.

Suicide occurs across all ages, economic, social, ability, racial, gender, and ethnic boundaries. However, vulnerable populations are at higher risk for suicide.

Based on data from 2017-2021, on average, more than 130 Nova Scotians lose their lives to suicide each year, and more than 1,200 receive care due to self-harm.

Suicide rates in the province among males are consistently higher than among females. Suicide rates show variation from year to year. While an individual’s reasons for suicide are complex, research of historical data shows that social and economic events in the world have, at times, coincided with changes in rates of suicide in places affected. The somewhat higher rate of suicide in 2009 coincided with a time of economic recession. The suicide rates increased again in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

In Nova Scotia, those aged 45 to 59 are most likely to attempt suicide. Research from outside Nova Scotia has shown us that people who identify as 2SLGTBQIA+ have a greater risk of suicide. Since this information has not been routinely collected in Nova Scotia, it cannot be assessed currently.

Research also confirms that there is an increasing trend in suicide rates among our least stable populations. Those without secure housing and employment, those who are members of Indigenous and racialized populations, and those struggling with their mental health are most likely to attempt suicide. In fact, mental health struggles account for 90 percent of all suicides.

Death because of a mental illness is not well understood so the focus, attention, and work are directed at suicide prevention. In addition to clinical treatments, suicide prevention and risk reduction include prevention that happens at the community and societal levels.

While there are many things that contribute to suicidal behaviour, there are resources and supports that can be life-promoting and protective against suicide.

Prevention strategies can include increasing financial and housing stability, poverty reduction strategies, reducing stigma and discrimination, and increasing community belonging. Historical injustices, systemic discrimination and racism, and the impacts of intergenerational trauma also need to be addressed.

Prevention strategies, sometimes referred to as a ‘life promotion approach,’ are important in communities when formal resources and services are lacking. Life promotion is a broad term that includes factors that help people build resilience before a crisis happens. Taking a life promotion approach allows for a focus on preventing suicides before people are in crisis. It also builds understanding that then can be used to better address a broad range of risk and protective factors.

The federal and provincial governments as well as mental health advocates have a variety of online resources available to help those struggling as well as guide friends and family. In advance of September 10, here are some resources that might be helpful:

If you are having a mental health emergency, or you know someone is in immediate danger, call the Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line toll-free at 1-888-429-8167 or call 911. Or go to your nearest hospital or emergency department.

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