Every day we scan news headlines and social media for items of interest to the field of suicide prevention. Here’s what we found last week:

More children and teens are having suicidal thoughts, but experts can’t pinpoint whyGlobal News
April 10, 2019

A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association(JAMA) journal has found that the rate of children and adolescents going to hospital for suicide thoughts or attempts has doubled from 2007 and 2015.Data was culled from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey in the U.S. The average age of the evaluated children was 13 years old.

Dr. Brett Burstein, lead study author and a pediatric emergency room physician at Montreal Children’s Hospital of McGill University Health Centre, said the numbers were “alarming.”

Mara Grunau, Executive Director at the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP), told Global News it’s hard to know if the same trends are happening in Canada.

“The answer we would like to say is we can just look at the numbers and just read them, but it’s still much more complicated than that,” she said. “The biggest issue in suicide period is stigma. But when it comes to specific groups — and children would top the list — the stigma is significant.”

She added numbers suggest there are more children presenting with suicidal thoughts, but it could be children are just more aware of it.

“What’s really changed? Is it our perspective or is that behaviour? We don’t know.”

Suicides at bridge in Vermont prompt public feedback on changes to designBurlington Free Press
April 8, 2019

The Quechee Gorge Bridge in Vermont has seen 14 suicides from 2007 to July 2018, and now citizens are providing input on how suicides can be prevented from that location.There has been a temporary fence in place since October but the bridge is potentially up for redesign, starting with input from the public on Monday, including whether to install safety barriers.

The idea of barriers to prevent suicides have supporters and detractors. The article references a piece by Robert Olson of  the Centre for Suicide Prevention which presents these positions but ultimately sides with the installation of barriers or other measures on bridges where suicides have occurred because “whether a site of repeated suicides requires a barrier or another prevention measure should not be up for debate.”

Syrian family in Calgary mourning loss of 9-year-old daughter who died by suicide Global News
April 13, 2019

A Syrian refugee family who had come to Canada with dreams of a better life encountered unimaginable tragedy on March 6. Aref Alshteiwi came home to discover the body of his 9 year-old  daughter, Amal, in her bedroom. She had died by suicide. 

The family said that Amal would often  come home from school and speak of being bullied. They were unaware of programs to help newcomers adjust to their new lives in Canada.

There are hundreds of such programs available to newcomers in Calgary, including many for children. But only about half of those who are eligible access them or even know they exist.Immigration Services Calgary CEO Hyder Hassan expressed shock and horror and laments that Amal fell through the cracks.

Dark side of American dream is killing white men Detroit Free Press
April 12, 2019

This op-ed piece by Randy Essex looks at the disproportionate number of suicide by middle-aged white males in the United States. He attributes many of the deaths to the “American Dream” and the expectation that one’s success or failure is dependent on one’s ability to utilize “rugged individualism” to overcome life’s adversities and to persevere.

“I’m not an expert. But I’ve known a handful of men over the years who took their own lives. I’m in the prime demographic myself. And I spent three years as an editor near Aspen, Colorado — as strange it may seem, an area plagued by suicide”. He continues, “And that takes me back to my indictment of the American dream. The idea that this nation affords each of us the opportunity to be whatever we want comes true for many, but certainly not all. Unspoken is the converse implication — especially for white men, born with advantages conferred by race and gender: If you can’t make it, it’s your fault and you are a failure”.

He believes it is past time we debunked these myths and moved passed them before we experience more and more deaths. 

Canadian research finds steep increase in suicide attempts by childrenNational Post
April 10, 2019

Dr. Brett Burstein, lead study author of a recent JAMA Pediatrics study of adolescent and children suicidality, and a pediatric emergency room physician at Montreal Children’s Hospital of McGill University Health Centre says that similar trends of increasing visitations by children and adolescents to hospital is increasing. But says “comparable national data isn’t available in Canada”. He does note that in his hospital, though, there has been a 55% increase in ER visits for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts since 2015, accounting for approximately 2% of all visits. 

Burstein believes Canada needs robust data such as found in the United States and is calling on public health officials to implement measures to make that happen. He says it is hard to know if our situation is as dire as down south because we are just not collecting that information.

Suicidal thoughts, planning ‘significantly’ higher in Waterloo region, report says CBC 
April 10, 2019
A report entitled, A Community Profile on Suicide and Self-harm in Waterloo Region, was brought to the region’s community services committee on Tuesday. It’s the first phase of a longer term research project between Region of Waterloo Public Health and the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council.

Jessica Deming,an epidemiologist with public health author of the report, says “We tried to do a really deep dive and comprehensive look at all the existing data sources in the community that could provide some insight into what is going on in terms of who is dying by suicide and who is attempting suicide in Waterloo region”. 

Deming says they found that the” prevalence of suicidal thoughts in someone’s lifetime was five percent higher in the region, while suicidal planning was four per cent higher than the provincial average”.

She also identified a number of groups who had higher rates of mental illness and suicidal behaviours including females aged 15 to 24, people with low income, LGBTQ and Indigenous people in the region.

The authors are uncertain as to the extent those who died by suicide had come into contact with health care and mental health providers. Those kinds of questions will be addressed in phase two of the project which will begin later this year.

Battling an increase in suicides among womenMI Blues Perspective
April 10, 2019
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last year that saw the ” proportion of women who died by suicide increased 50 percent between 2000 and 2016 with the highest amount among women aged 45-64″. Men still far outnumber women in the number of suicide deaths but the report shows that the gap is diminishing. 

The reasons for this change are difficult to state. Some point to the nature of life stressors in a woman’s life as key to the change. While women have always had stressors such as motherhood along with other issues such as relationship and financial problems,”they’re more likely to be the primary wage earner while still maintaining the role of main caregiver. In a lot of cases, that can mean taking care of children and aging parents”.

The lack of access to mental health care is also a major problem, as is an understanding of mental health across the community.

Doreen Marshall, a psychologist and vice president of programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says  “efforts to improve mental health literacy for all genders will help lead more people to mental health care earlier. That’s likely to have a positive impact on suicide rates for all.”

Number of children going to ER with suicidal thoughts, attempts doubles, study findsCNN
April 8, 2019

The number of children presenting at emergency rooms in the US with suicide attempts and ideation has doubled, according to a new study using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of students presenting with ideation or an attempt went up from 580,000 in 2007 to 1.12 million in 2015. “The numbers are very alarming,” said Dr. Brett Burstein, the lead study author and a pediatric emergency room physician at Montreal Children’s Hospital of McGill University Health Centre. “It also represents a larger percentage of all pediatric emergency department visits. Where suicidal behavior among the pediatric population was just 2% of all visits, that’s now up to 3.5%.”
Related – Emergency room visits rise for children who attempt suicide, study says. Here’s what’s needed to helpUSA Today

Helping, listening, caring: Japanese prefecture leads dramatic decrease in suicides – Reuters
April 7, 2019

Akita prefecture, 450 km north of Tokyo, has historically the highest rates of suicide in Japan. However, national efforts have brought the rate of suicide down by nearly 40 percent in the last decade and Akita has its lowest instances of suicide in 40 years. 

Some of the reasons for this were the suicide prevention efforts Akita prefecture took 20 years ago. In 1999,  Akita became the first prefecture in  Japan to budget for suicide prevention. Amid positive media coverage, citizen and volunteer suicide prevention groups proliferated. They also began large-scale depression screening.Finally, they initiated a network of “gatekeepers”, – people trained to identify those contemplating suicide and, if needed, put them in touch with help.This network continues to grow.

Akita’s suicide rate has fallen from a high of 44.6 per 100,000 in 2003 to 20.7 in 2018. This is a huge improvement but is still the sixty-highest in the nation. There is still more work to be done.

London suicide prevention initiative earns national honourLondon Free Press
April 7, 2019

St. Joseph’s Health Care in London Ontario has received an award by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute and HealthCareCAN, a national advocacy group for hospitals and other healthcare agencies. It is for its pioneering efforts with the Zero Suicide Initiative, an ongoing mental health policy designed to identify, address and eliminate suicide risk among patients.
The initiative began in the hospital’s adult mental health outpatient program and has expanded into its inpatient population as well. The third phase of the program will involve bringing the program into the wider community.  

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