World Suicide Prevention Day 2020
International organizations will be marking a day specifically dedicated to suicide prevention and remembrance of those lost to suicide.
Suicide is a year-round public health crisis, but for institutions dedicated to tackling the issue, even a single day can be a call-to-action.
Every year on September 10th, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) marks World Suicide Prevention Day, which, according to IASP’s website, “provides the opportunity for people, across the globe, to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.”
In the context of an ongoing global pandemic, even as many parts of the world tentatively reopen to what political leaders call a “new normal”, the world continues to face suicide as a concurrent pandemic. Even as lives are thrown off balance, with individuals and society facing an uncertain future, our collective tools and personal coping mechanisms are themselves challenged by COVID-19 and the public health measures adopted to contain its outbreak.
Even if COVID-19 were eradicated tomorrow, though, suicide and many factors which lead to it would remain. Solutions to this problem, then, must adapt and take our changing conditions into account. For mental health-oriented non-profits such as Toronto-based Reach Out Together and its partnering organizations, this has meant a transition into more virtual events and programs, such as the recent Global Virtual Summit on July 12, marking World Reach Out Together Day with a 12-hour series of online panel discussions and performances.
According to IASP and the World Health Organization, globally, every 40 seconds, a person passes away to suicide. In that time, up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. In their wake, family, friends, colleagues, and others connected to those who pass away to suicide or attempt suicide face their own mental health challenges. Left unchecked, those challenges can spiral into suicidal thoughts and behaviour among survivors. This is where a range of organizations and events, such as World Suicide Prevention Day and World Reach Out Together Day, step in and call on others to step in to offer support.
Crisis hotlines and immediate medical attention are essential, but as with any health concern, prevention where possible is key. This can mean anything from professional therapy to building healthy personal and social habits that promote mental well-being, whether individual exercise, a team sport, meditation, or other coping strategies.
Even public health recommendations for crisis prevention highlight the importance of peer support which can recognize different communities’ needs. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that
“The public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic should increase intervention and prevention efforts to address associated mental health conditions. Community-level efforts, including health communication strategies, should prioritize young adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers.”
The CDC recommendation came as demographic data shows that young adults, visible minorities, and essential workers are especially at-risk. Further, the data showed nearly 31 percent of unpaid family caregivers reported seriously considering suicide in the preceding 30 days, compared with 11 percent of those who were not caregivers.
WHO data shows many such demographic vulnerabilities on a global scale, including, for example, suicide as “the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally”, as of 2016.
Any organization emphasizing peer-to-peer outreach for positive mental well-being must, then, be explicitly dedicated to prevention and community-level efforts, with an understanding of the challenges and needs of vulnerable groups. Not only professionals, but peer groups, need to be prepared with at least fundamental knowledge and tools to guide those in crisis.
The IASP will commemorate this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day by, among other ways, calling for a worldwide lighting of candles at 8 p.m. local time. The image of a sequence of candle-lightings is a powerfully symbolic memorial and call-to-action, collectively spreading light to show the importance of both being willing to help others and being willing to accept help from them.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, seek out appropriate resources such as therapy, your doctor, or professional sources of information such as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) which can offer information on mental illnesses and coping strategies.
If you or someone you know shows warning signs of being suicidal, contact a local crisis centre or emergency services for immediate help.