Hello Friends,

Every day we scan news headlines and social media for items of interest to the field of suicide prevention. This week’s news roundup will be our last for 2020! Here’s what we found last week:

Suicides up sharply on Toronto subway during pandemicGlobe and Mail
December 7, 2020
Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has seen an increase in suicides in the past eight months, with 35 attempts or fatalities taking place. Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention said that she was surprised by the rise, as normally suicide trends take time to develop, because people tend to exhaust their personal resources before thinking about suicide, however, those who were in a difficult situation before the pandemic started may be more vulnerable. As for whether or not Canada will see a similar increase in suicides, David Gratzer, psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said, “While we’re all very interested to know what’s happening [to the suicide rate] with the pandemic, I think it’s early. I think one should be hesitant in looking at early numbers, because they do tend to be small.”

CMHA offers upcoming suicide prevention workshops for regionCHAT News Today
December 11, 2020
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Southeast (Medicine Hat) will be offering free suicide prevention workshops for anyone in the community who wants to learn about the warning signs of suicide in adults, young people, and kids, thanks to funding from the Alberta government. Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator for CMHA Medicine Hat and Centre for Suicide Prevention Trainer Breanne Mellen said, “The more people who take these training courses, the more who will be equipped to respond to those who are thinking about suicide within whatever training capacity they have.” Courses being offered include the two-day ASIST: Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshop, as well as safeTALK: suicide alertness for everyone, and Centre for Suicide Prevention workshops Tattered Teddies: Preventing suicide in children and Straight Talk: Preventing suicide in youth.

Vigil to remember those who died by suicide providing comfort in isolating timesCBC
December 13, 2020
A vigil for those who have died by suicide, started 16 years ago, was held online for the first time last Sunday. People from across Newfoundland and Labrador attended the vigil, which is a “positive moment,” according to Andy Jones, who lost his son Louis to suicide seven years ago.  “It always helps to talk to other people. And to celebrate the lives of the people that we lost to suicide. It’s also very helpful to have something like this at Christmas time, which is always a hard time of year,” said Jones. Kim Kelly began the vigil after the death of her brother, Brendan. “We don’t want people to be remembered in how they died,” she said. “Louis and Brendan and all of our loved ones were people. We want to focus on what they did in life, and for people to know that it’s OK.… We are encouraging people to come together in this loss to remember our loved ones.”

A psychiatric nurse’s mental health prescription for those living alone during the holidaysCBC
December 12, 2020
This holiday season, due to public health orders restricting physical social gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19, many of us will be alone. We’ve moved to online social interaction, however, people living in remote communities, those experiencing poverty, and some older adults may not have access or ability to communicate virtually. It’s important for everyone to know that they can reach out for help by calling their local crisis line, or the Canada-wide crisis line at 1-833-456-4566. People can also take steps to ensure their mental wellbeing, for example, spending time outdoors, exercising, eating healthy foods, and practicing any other self-care that is helpful. Maintaining social connections as best we can is another important step to ensure mental wellbeing.

3-digit suicide prevention hotline gets green light from House of Commons CBC
December 11, 2020
MPs voted unanimously last week in favour of a national three-digit hotline, 988, that would consolidate all existing suicide crisis numbers in Canada. “When minutes count, help should only be three digits away,” said MP Todd Doherty who introduced the motion. Doherty lost his best friend to suicide when he was 14, and he said the grief from that loss remains with him to this day. “I know [that], like me, many of our colleagues have experienced the pain, loss, guilt and anger of suicide,” he said in the House of Commons. “We can leave a legacy of action by breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and mental injury and eliminating unnecessary barriers for Canadians who chose to seek help.”

Suicide deaths in Alberta in 2020 fewer than what was recorded last yearCTV
December 11, 2020
*Disclaimer: Suicide data reported in this article is preliminary. As the medical examiner finalizes death investigations, numbers are likely to change.* Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in a Facebook live update last Wednesday, said, “We’ve been tracking suicides… and they continue to be below the average of the last several years. Basically suicides are down. I know that, to many, that’s not intuitive – it seems contrary. Perhaps all of the pent-up anxiety will manifest itself in an increase in that rate next year but so far, thankfully, that’s not been the case.”

Deaths By Suicide In Japan Surpassed Deaths By Covid-19: Here’s What That Means For The U.S.Forbes
December 9, 2020
Japan has reported an increase in suicide deaths starting July 2020, but is the first ‘high income’ country to report an increase in suicides during the pandemic. In the US, people are speculating whether or not an increase in suicides will occur, and while no national data for suicides this year have been released, some states have released data and some have found no increase in suicides. Dr. Christine Moutier, the Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention commented on the Japanese data, which saw a significant increase in the percentage of women taking their own lives, “When rates start at a lower baseline for any demographic group, any upward change shows up as a steeper percent change. Nevertheless, it is very concerning, and may relate to cultural and environmental factors that impact some parts of the population more than others.” Moutier worries about the effects of COVID-19 on groups disproportionately affected, in particular Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities, people in rural or already economically depressed areas, frontline workers, and people with baseline educational and economic disparities. Moutier says that now is the time for action in suicide prevention and is calling on policy makers, community leaders, health systems and clinicians, “We don’t need to wait for suicide data to make suicide prevention a priority. There are clear reasons to be concerned because of previous observations of the impact of certain disasters and economic contraction on population suicide risk, as well as the data we already have about COVID’s impact on mental health, the economy, isolation and increases in alcohol consumption and drug overdose deaths.”

Bachelorette’s Ben Smith opens up to Tayshia Adams about suicideToday
December 9, 2020
Ben Smith, a contestant on the Bachelorette, is opening up on the reality show about the struggles he’s had in the past with thoughts of suicide. Smith broke his back, left the military, and had spent years coping with an eating disorder and felt overwhelmed. “I was completely lost,” he said. “My life was very dark and I didn’t know how to say that I needed things.” With the help of his sister and intensive therapy, Smith says he’s doing better now than 2018 and 2019, when he attempted suicide. Dr. Ken Duckworth, the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said, “Mental health treatment is often effective. It’s important to recognize that this is a moment of tremendous pain when people make this decision and this does not have to be the entire future of your life. This is a good example of that. So, this is a person who is on national TV, enjoying his dating life, owning his vulnerability.”

Maine Teen Dies by Suicide Due to Struggles During PandemicPEOPLE.com
December 9, 2020
Jay Smith lost his son Spencer, 16, to suicide December 4. “We knew he was upset because he was no longer able to participate in his school activities, football. We never guessed it was this bad. Looking back now we could see little things that we should have caught but we didn’t realize his mental health was deteriorating as bad,” said Smith. Smith says Spencer had been training for the fall football season, and his behaviour changed after learning the season wouldn’t be the same as the year before, “As soon as he found out it wasn’t going to be a regular football season, looking back, we noticed he stopped working out. He stopped riding his bike as much to the point he didn’t even work out anymore. Instead of working out, he took naps.” Spencer also experienced problems with school and connecting with classmates. Brunswick School Department Superintendent Phil Potenziano said in a statement, “I want to take this opportunity to remind our community that suicide, when it does occur, is a very complicated act. No one single thing causes it. But in many cases, a mental health condition is part of it, and these conditions are treatable.” Smith wants teens to know that, “There’s help out there. This pandemic can’t last forever and if they’re feeling alone and depressed, they need to reach out for help. Things will get better. I ask parents to talk to their children.”

‘It’s a silent epidemic’: Mental health in newsrooms needs more attentionDigiday
December 7, 2020
Reporting on the pandemic may be taking a toll on the mental health of journalists. John Crowley, a freelance editor and media consultant with long experience of running newsrooms said, “Journalists felt they were trapped in a pandemic bubble, covering this unremittingly depressing story 12 hours a day.” A survey of 130 journalists globally found that 64% had experienced work-related stress and 59% had felt depressed or anxious. Working remotely has posed problems for journalists, too, as communication and human interaction with sources is more difficult. Shirish Kulkarni, a seasoned journalist with 25 years’ experience said, “Newsrooms have a playbook for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in cameramen and women and war reporters. If someone gets PTSD in a warzone, they know exactly what to do, there is a step-by-step guide. But no-one understands mental health in newsrooms. There isn’t a playbook for the much more common, day-to-day issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, which many of their staff are dealing with but few managers know how to deal with.” Many large news outlets are adding new benefits for employees like paid-time-off, training that focuses on mental health, and some have 24/7 employee assistance programs.

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