Hello Friends,

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

Christmas is not always merry for LGBTQ youth, says Saskatoon psychiatristCBC
December 23, 2020
Dr. Sara Dungavell, a psychiatrist in Saskatoon, said that the holidays can be a challenging time for LGBTQ young people, especially when they are not being supported by their parents. “Most LGBTQ youth don’t have parents who are also in the LGBTQ community. And often parents don’t know how to be supportive to their youngsters. So a lot of their identity and their support can sometimes come from friends and social groups, and those have been severely limited since the pandemic started,” said Dungavell. According to Centre for Suicide Prevention, sexual and gender minority youth are at a higher risk for suicide than their straight peers, however, a Trans Pulse study from 2012 found that there was a 93% reduction of reported suicide attempts in youth who had parents who were strongly supportive of their gender identity and expression. Dungavell says that the best thing parents can do to support their kids is to, “Let them know you accept them for who they are and that you will continue to accept them for who they are regardless who that person ends up being.”

In Japan, pandemic and celebrity deaths likely behind rise in suicidesJapan Times
December 31, 2020
The number of suicides in Japan has increased during the pandemic, and the number of suicides for women has increased most significantly, 88.6% in October 2020 compared to October 2019. Suicide prevention experts say that women’s mental health may be more affected in general by the pandemic, as Yasuyuki Shimizu, representative director of the Japan Suicide Countermeasures Promotion Center, says, “These days, it is not unusual for women to be the primary breadwinners in their households, even though many of them remain in nonpermanent positions. If they are laid off or their contracts are not renewed, it affects not only them but whole families.” There have also been a number of reported celebrity suicides and Shimizu wonders if these suicides may have also had an impact on the rising numbers, especially among those who were already vulnerable, “Those who were barely hanging on under the stress of the pandemic may have let themselves go, possibly nudged by apparent suicides by well-known actors and news reports about them.”

Machine learning model helps predict suicide fatality rates in ‘near real time’Healio
December 31, 2020
A new study has found that a machine learning model may be effective in estimating annual suicide rates. The model takes into account real-time information like online searches and social media data and examines other variables related to suicide risk by looking at information such as health service data and economic data. “Researchers have attempted to strengthen and supplement the signal produced from online search or social media data by examining variables that provide additional population-level environmental context for suicide risk, such as macroeconomic indicators and meteorological patterns,” said Daejin Choi, PhD, of the department of computer science and engineering at Incheon National University in South Korea. “To our knowledge, no study has attempted to combine information from disparate real-time data sources to evaluate the ability of multiple streams to tackle the pressing public health need of enabling estimation of suicide fatality rates for the U.S. in near real time.” Results from the study showed that the machine learning method’s estimate of weekly suicide data had a low error of 0.55% when compared to actual data.

Suicide rate decreased for the first time in a decade in 2019, CDC reports Medical Xpress
December 31, 2020
American suicide rates decreased for the first time in 2019 since 1999; the rate had decreased by 2.1% compared to 2018, for a total of 833 fewer deaths, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mary Ann Murtha, director of the Philadelphia area’s American Foundation for Suicide Prevention chapter said that it was encouraging to see a decline in the suicide rate but that for there to be a sustained decrease in deaths, systemic changes are needed.

The Cruise Ship Suicides Began After the Last Passengers LeftBloomberg Businessweek
December 30, 2020
*Method and content warning* In the early months of the pandemic, many cruise ship employees were still living on the ships, separated from their families and confined for much of the day to tiny cabins, sometimes without pay. Cruise ship companies and government authorities did not agree on how to transport cruise ship workers home safely, and when they did begin transporting them home, there were a number of complications due to ever-changing travel restrictions, meaning that crew were uncertain of when they would be going home as repatriation schedules changed frequently. Before the pandemic, in October 2019 a survey of cruise ship crew found that one fifth of crew had thoughts of suicide and high levels of depression, possibly caused by long contract lengths and stressful demands. There have been reports of suicides of cruise ship crew members during the pandemic, and one advocate for cruise ship workers says she received distressed messages so often during those first few months of the pandemic that she took suicide prevention training to help respond.

What Can Be Learned From Differing Rates of Suicide Among GroupsNew York Times
December 30, 2020
This article explores the varying suicide rates of different racial and ethnic groups. For example, white Americans have consistently higher suicide rates (in 2017, 19 per 100,000) than Asian-Americans (7.1), Black Americans (6.6), and Hispanics (7.1). Joshua Breslau, a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND said, “Social stressors — lower socioeconomic status and racism among them — are more prevalent and severe for the Black population than the white one. But suicide and some risk factors for it, like mental health conditions, are less prevalent in the Black population. This is puzzling.” Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist with West Virginia University said that, “Because suicides can be difficult to prove, many may be misclassified as undetermined intent or accidents. This problem is greater for Black Americans than white Americans.” Deaths of Black Americans are more likely to be coded as ‘undetermined’ than those of white Americans, according to Rockett. This may be because they are less likely to have a record of mental health diagnosis and also less likely to leave a note. Some speculate that suicide rates may be lower because Black Americans overwhelmingly identify as being Christian and that their faith protects them. Jonathan Lee Walton, dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University, sees another angle to Black religiosity that could reduce suicide rates. “It’s in the Black theological tradition that in this life you will experience trouble and hardship. Unfortunately, this is born of tragic experiences in this nation. This prepares one for paths of despair, for traveling the lonely road of heartbreak, perhaps in a way that white Americans don’t learn to the same degree or from a young and formative age.”

When doctors ponder suicide, depression—not burnout—is key driverAmerican Medical Association
December 29, 2020
A recent survey of data from November 2018 to February 2019 of 1,354 physicians in the US found that “Depression is linked to substantially higher odds of suicidal ideation, even after adjusting for burnout,” according to lead study author Nikitha K. Menon. “Although burnout has been identified as a risk factor for depression and suicide in physicians, previous studies haven’t fully accounted for the effects of both. On top of that, some controversy remains over whether burnout and depression are truly separate constructs or simply gradations of the same underlying disorder.” Menon points out that this is an issue because while burnout has received attention as a prevalent issue in medicine, depression and other mental illnesses are still stigmatized, “This cultural stigma around mental illness likely exacerbates the barriers faced by physicians that are affected, preventing them from seeking help when they need it.”

Gay, lesbian, bisexual veterans at increased risk for suicide mortalityHealio
December 28, 2020
American veterans belonging to sexual minorities have an increased risk for suicide according to a recently published study of death data from October 1999 to September 2017: 3.5% of general population veterans died by suicide, while 3.7% of sexual minority veterans died by suicide. In the American general population, 1.7% of people died by suicide.  “Sexual minority individuals have a higher lifetime risk for suicide ideation and attempts than heterosexual individuals, but suicide data for [sexual minority] populations are not well characterized,” noted Kristine E. Lynch, PhD, of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System in Utah. “Lack of reliable mortality data has been an obstacle to understanding mortality disparities experienced by [sexual minority] communities, including [sexual minority] veterans. Further research is needed to determine whether and how suicide prevention efforts reach sexual minority veterans.”

Different questioning style by doctors can help patients with suicidal tendencies experts sayBusinessworld
December 26, 2020
A new study has found that patients with mental health issues are more likely to disclose thoughts of suicide if their general practitioner (GP) asks them about suicide in a way that is open and nonjudgmental, acknowledging that the answer to their question may be ‘yes.’ The study looked at 18 video-recorded patient consultations in which patients were asked about suicide between 2014 and 2015. Many of GPs asked about suicide in a way that led patients to answer ‘no,’ for example by asking, “You’re not having any thoughts of harming yourself?” Physicians also tended to focus on whether or not the patient would act upon their thoughts of suicide. One study author Professor Richard Byng said, “While understanding the distress felt by patients and anxiety felt by doctors in these encounters, we propose that practitioners can be supported to shift conversations to either a more therapeutic listening mode or even further around to help individuals see hope through the results of their own positive future actions.” Another study author, Joseph Ford, said, “Many patients who die by suicide have seen their GP in the month before death, which shows how important these conversations are. We know from earlier research, though, that many GPs find these conversations to be difficult.”

Taraji P. Henson Reveals She Thought About Taking Her Own Life amid Coronavirus Pandemic People
December 23, 2020
*Method warning* Taraji P. Henson, an Oscar-nominated actress and mental health advocate, has opened up about having thoughts of suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Henson says, “I felt myself withdrawing. People were calling me, I wasn’t responding. I just didn’t care. Finally, I’m talking to one of my girlfriends and I knew, I was smart enough to say, ‘I have to say it,’ I was like, I don’t want them to think I’m crazy. I don’t want them to, you know, obsess over me or think they gotta come and sit on me. So one day I just blurted it out, to my girlfriend. She called me in the morning and I was like, ‘You know I thought about killing myself last night.'” Henson said that opening up about her thoughts helped her overcome them.

Stories of the year: Tristen Durocher brought Sask.’s high suicide rate to forefrontRegina Leader Post
December 23, 2020
One of the Regina Leader-Post’s stories of the year is the story of Tristen Durocher, who “captured the attention of people across the province and sparked conversations about Saskatchewan’s high rate of suicide after walking hundreds of kilometres and putting up a teepee across from the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.” Durocher said,  “These numbers of death rates in the north are not statistics for me. They’re faces, they’re people, they’re loved ones, and I need to do as much as I can, just to sleep at night to know that I tried.”

‘It gets better’: Kevin Spacey posts Christmas video advice for suicidalUSA Today
December 23, 2020
This is the third year that actor Kevin Spacey has posted a Christmas Eve video to his YouTube channel, and this year Spacey, who faces sexual assault allegations, focused on suicide prevention. Spacey says, “Heartbreakingly, so many have talked about things having gotten so bad for them that they have contemplated taking their own lives. And that’s enough for me to want to take an entirely different approach this year, to acknowledge their pain and to say to anyone out there who’s struggling or contemplating that idea, please, please do not take that step. If you feel there is no path for you, whatever the situation, I promise you there is a path. At this time during this holiday and beyond, there are people out there who understand and who can help, because you are not alone.”

One in four women with ADHD has attempted suicideEurekAlert! Science News
December 22, 2020
A new study from the University of Toronto has found that 24% of women who had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) attempted suicide, compared to 3% of general population women and 9% of men with ADHD and 2% of general population men. “ADHD casts a very long shadow. Even when we took into account history of mental illness, and the higher levels of poverty and early adversities that adults with ADHD often experience, those with ADHD still had 56% higher odds of having attempted suicide than their peers without ADHD,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Professor at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging. While authors acknowledge that they are unable to definitively say why people with ADHD attempt suicide more often, they did also find that adults with ADHD who had been exposed to chronic parental domestic violence were three times more likely to attempt suicide than those who hadn’t. Authors speculate that, “Violent parental conflict may cause extreme stress for the child with ADHD and predispose these individuals to mental illness and suicidal thoughts. In addition, the challenges of raising a child with ADHD who is struggling with severe mental health issues may cause parental conflict, which may escalate into domestic violence.”

Health Officials Fear COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Suicide Spike Among Indigenous YouthTIME
December 21, 2020
Mental health experts in the US worry that the mental health of young people, especially those living on rural native American reserves, could worsen during the pandemic and lead to higher suicide rates. Native American youth in the US die by suicide almost two times more often than their white peers. Carrie Manning, a project coordinator at the Fort Peck Tribes’ Spotted Bull Recovery Resource Center says that COVID-19 restrictions have “…put a really heavy spirit on (the young people)…” Maria Vega, a 22-year-old member of the Fort Peck Tribes has attempted suicide in the past and is now a youth representative for a state-run suicide prevention committee. She’s also a nursing student who lives many hours away from her family. She contracted COVID-19 in October and isolated herself, and she said that telehealth therapy sessions helped her through: “I really do think therapy is something that would help people while they’re alone,” though she did acknowledge that some communities may not have reliable access to internet and that telehealth therapists often have long waitlists.

People with Parkinson’s disease at increased risk for suicideHealio
December 21, 2020
A new study from Taiwan has found people with Parkinson’s disease to be at an increased risk for suicide. “Research into the association between [Parkinson’s disease] and suicide has not provided a consistent picture,” Ying-Yeh Chen, MD, ScD, of the Taipei City Psychiatric Center in Taiwan, and colleagues wrote. “Several studies have found high suicide rates in patients with [Parkinson’s disease], whereas others have not, and [one] study has shown a considerably lower risk than in the general population. Given that suicide is a rare occurrence, studies with large and representative population-based [Parkinson’s disease] samples are needed to reach a reliable estimate of suicide rates.” Authors note that, “Over and above identifying and treating mental disorders in [Parkinson’s disease], integrating mental health care into primary care, geriatric health care and [Parkinson’s disease] specialty care might be helpful. Furthermore, socioenvironmental interventions, such as enhancing family and community connectedness and home safety assessment to prevent suicide by jumping, are all potential intervention measures.”

Can a community reach zero youth suicide? In Peel, that is exactly what they’re trying to do Globe and Mail
December 17, 2020
Peel, a region in Ontario of 1.4 million, is implementing a new initiative: Project Now. The goal of the initiative is to reach zero youth suicides in the region. The initiative includes training teachers, social workers, doctors, and peers; making it easier for hospitals and schools to communicate; and giving the best care (including follow-up care) to the most high-risk patients. Another goal of the initiative is to change the way people view suicide, as something inevitable and impossible to predict. Often, people who present to emergency departments with suicidal behaviour do not receive the help they need; their moment of crisis has likely passed by the time they’re seen, and they or their families are left to coordinate their own follow-up care.  “Leaving people who are most in distress to manage their own care can’t be the way it continues to happen. That is unconscionable,” says Dr. Ian Dawe, program chief and medical director of mental health at Trillium Health Partners. “All our resources are scrambling to meet the need when it has exploded. How can we bend the curve by getting in early?” This is the first time a Zero Suicide initiative has been implemented in an entire community; in the past, these initiatives have been implemented mainly in health systems. Read more about the Zero Suicide initiative with our article on the subject.

Experts warn of pandemic’s deepening impact on mental health as caseloads rise CBC
December 17, 2020
Many worry about the mental health impacts of strict public health measures. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a press conference, “We’re seeing, you know, addictions rise right now. We’re seeing suicides rise. So we have to measure everything. It’s not always health. Health is number one. That’s the number one priority. Without health, we don’t have our economy.” Canadian Mental Health Association – National CEO Margaret Eaton said, “Many of the things that perhaps we took for granted before that contribute to our mental health have disappeared. So the social connection with family and friends, the connections we experience through work, a reliable income, things like this… We know that Crisis Services Canada, which runs the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service, has seen a 200 per cent increase in demand.”

Pandemic Tied to Higher Suicide Rate in Blacks, Lowered Rate in WhitesUS News
December 17, 2020
Findings from a new study found that though suicide rates don’t seem to have increased as a result of the pandemic in the US, they have doubled among Black people in the country. This suggests that the Black community may have been more impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than, for example, white communities. Study author Dr. Paul Sasha Nestadt says, “(COVID-19) Infection and fatality rates are higher among Black people, and we know that there are huge disparities in access to care, including mental health care. When someone is struck hard by things around the pandemic and they can’t get access to good mental health care, they are in the most danger. We are all in the same storm, but we are in different boats. Many people were able to hunker down and be with their family and could afford child care, but some people were just getting by to start with and did not have the reserve or cushion to do this. (White people) may be more likely to have jobs that allow working from home, may have been able to attain child care, and based on fatality rates may have been less likely to have lost a family member to COVID. They also had easier access to mental health care.”

New study highlights cost-effectiveness of bans on pesticides as a suicide prevention strategyWorld Health Organization
December 17, 2020
A new economic analysis has examined the cost-effectiveness of population-based suicide prevention interventions in 14 countries. Researchers found that banning highly hazardous pesticides in those 14 countries could result in around 28,000 fewer suicides per year. This was found to be a cost-effective way of reducing suicides in countries in which a high number of suicides are attributable to pesticide poisoning.

My Friend Is Talking About Suicide. How Can I Help? Healthline
December 16, 2020
This article provides tips on how to help a friend who is thinking about suicide, including: taking them at their word if they say they’ve been thinking about suicide and paying attention to their language and behaviour if they haven’t clearly told you they’re thinking about suicide and asking them if they’re thinking about suicide directly if you’re worried about their behaviour. Encouraging them to talk about their feelings is another tip, as well as offering compassion to them once they’ve opened up. Continuing to offer support to them is also important, and encouraging them to seek professional support. If they’re at a high risk of suicide, that is, if they have a plan for suicide and are able to implement their plan, encourage them to call the crisis line, and don’t hesitate to call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Grounding exercises can help, as well as asking them if they have a safety plan. Don’t hesitate to involve others if needed, too.

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