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Healthy Living

Suicide Prevention

It's Your Health

This article was produced in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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The Issue

Every year close to 3,700 people in Canada commit suicide. Many of these deaths could be prevented by early recognition of the signs of suicidal thinking and appropriate intervention, and early identification and effective treatment of mental illness.


According to a Public Health Agency of Canada report in 2006, suicide accounts for 1.7 % of all deaths in Canada. However, this statistic does not take into consideration those suicides wrongly reported as accidental deaths or cases where it is difficult to assess whether or not the death was intentional. In fact, between 2000 - 2003, the annual number of reported deaths from suicide was higher than the number of deaths from transport accidents.

The suicide rate among men is nearly four times higher than the rate among women. However, women are twice as likely to attempt suicide as men. The difference seems to come from the fact that men more often use a more lethal means, such as firearms or hanging to end their lives. Women are more likely to choose a more prolonged method, such as an overdose of pills, where there is a greater chance of an intervention that will save their lives. Also, men are generally more reluctant to seek help on mental health issues than women.

Among adults aged 15 years and older, more than 3% have attempted suicide in their lifetime. More than one in five deaths among adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years is due to suicide. Suicide rates are much higher in some Aboriginal communities.

Despite the fact that almost everyone in Canada has been touched by suicide, there is still a stigma attached to it and to mental illness in general. Stigma is a complex issue involving many factors, including religious practices that do not allow people who commit suicide to be buried in sacred ground. This stigma can be a barrier to someone seeking help for suicidal feelings.

Factors in Suicidal Behaviour

There are four main factors that come into play in suicidal behaviour.

Predisposing factors

The factors that make an individual vulnerable to suicidal behaviour include:

  • Mental illness
  • Abuse
  • Loss of a loved one early in life
  • Family history of suicide
  • Long-term difficulty with peer relationships.

Almost all people who kill themselves have a mental illness, such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder. They often abuse drugs or alcohol. Although people who commit suicide are commonly depressed, only a minority of people who are depressed are suicidal.

Previous suicide attempts are common among those who eventually die by suicide.

Precipitating factors

These are the factors that create a crisis. The most common of these factors are losses, such as job loss, the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, divorce or loss of position in society.

Other factors that may cause the crisis include:

  • Pressure to succeed
  • Conflict with the law
  • Financial difficulties
  • Rejection by society for some personal trait, such as ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

What these factors have is common is that they are situations over which the individual feels no sense of control. They cause unbearable psychological pain that the individual feels will never end.

Contributing factors

These are the factors that make the individual even more vulnerable to suicidal behaviour. They can include:

  • Physical illness
  • Sexual identity issues
  • An unstable family environment
  • Risk-taking or self-destructive behaviour
  • The suicide of a friend
  • Isolation
  • Substance abuse.

Protective factors

These factors help to decrease the risk of suicide. They include:

  • A resilient personality
  • Tolerance for frustration
  • Self control
  • Good social supports
  • A sense of humour
  • At least one good relationship.

Symptoms of Suicidal Behaviour

More suicides could be prevented if people were aware of the warning signs for suicidal behaviour. People considering suicide often show one or more of these signs of distress. They may:

  • Repeatedly express that they feel hopeless, helpless or desperate, although many will not talk about it at all;
  • Experience a change in sleep patterns;
  • Lose their appetite or have no energy;
  • Make negative comments about themselves;
  • Lose interest in things they used to enjoy, such as friends, hobbies or sports;
  • Give away prize possessions and take other actions to put their affairs in order;
  • Express their final wishes to someone or talk about their suicidal thoughts, although again, many will not talk about it at all;
  • Have a plan as to how they will commit suicide, even giving the time and place.

Minimizing The Risk

If you or someone close to you shows some of these warning signs for suicide, here are steps you can take to help:

  • Most communities in Canada have access to a Crisis/Distress line staffed by people with experience in helping those considering suicide. Their telephone numbers are usually prominently displayed in the first few pages of the telephone directory. Call them for advice and referrals.
  • Help remove the stigma associated with suicide by talking openly and frankly with someone about suicidal feelings. Show interest and support. Blaming someone for their negative feelings or telling them to "pull themselves together" doesn't help and may further isolate the individual by discouraging them to share thoughts or look for help.
  • Get professional help from your family doctor or a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist. They can make a difference. If a friend or family member is suicidal, it can be helpful to offer to go with them.
  • Where possible, remove items that can be used for suicide, such as firearms, knives, over- the-counter medicines and drugs. Suicidal behaviour is often impulsive and restricting access to methods can substantially reduce the risk of a completed suicide.
  • Involve other friends and family members. The more support, the better for the person at risk and for you.
  • For more information and help, contact the mental health organizations listed in the Need More Info? section.

Government of Canada's Role

The Government of Canada works to help Canadians maintain and improve their mental health, including preventing suicidal behaviour. Within its jurisdiction, the Government of Canada works to:

  • Develop and disseminate knowledge on mental health promotion and mental illness prevention;
  • Provide leadership and governance;
  • Develop social marketing campaigns; and
  • Conduct surveillance on health trends in population.

In 2007, the federal government provided funding to establish and support The Mental Health Commission of Canada to lead the development of a national mental health strategy.

Need More Info?

For more information on suicidal behaviour, contact the following.

Next link will take you to another Web site The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Next link will take you to another Web site Mental Illness Surveillance, Public Health Agency of Canada

Next link will take you to another Web site The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada 2006

Next link will take you to another Web site The Mental Health Promotion Unit, Public Health Agency of Canada

Health Canada's Mental Health section

Next link will take you to another Web site The Mental Health Commission of Canada
Or contact the local Canadian Mental Health Association in your community, listed in the phone

Next link will take you to another Web site Mood Disorders Society of Canada

Next link will take you to another Web site Mental Health Canada

Next link will take you to another Web site Centre for Suicide Prevention

Next link will take you to another Web site Canadian Psychiatric Assocation

Next link will take you to another Web site The National Network for Mental Health

Next link will take you to another Web site The Canadian Psychological Association

For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section at:
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*

Original: March 2009
ę Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2009