Volume 91, Issue 69

Friday, January 30, 1998

cheque please


Attempting education instead of suicide

By Carolyn Wong
Gazette Staff

Although the reasons why young people commit suicide vary, Margaret Steele, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the London Health Sciences Centre, points out the tremendous increase in family conflict and divorce rates that affect a child tremendously, as another important reason why suicides are either attempted or completed.

"Education is vital," says Steele. However, people tend to focus too much on why people are motivated to kill themselves or how they killed themselves, she explains. The emphasis should be on recognizing warning signs, how to cope with stressful situations and how to solve problems effectively.

This strategy is definitely at work in London public schools, where they have started a suicide prevention program, which includes two lessons on suicide in grade nine, materials and resource documents. Teachers are also given flip charts and are taught how to identify warning signs and what action should be taken if these signs are detected.

Family physicians are also given pamphlets on suicide prevention because often times, people will go to their family doctor, claiming that they have a headache, or they do not feel well and request medication. Doctors are now being trained to recognize that these kinds of requests may be for the purpose of committing suicide, says Bruce Connell, a consulting psychologist for the Thames Valley District School Board and professor of a course on suicide at King's College.

People who have had relatives commit suicide are sometimes more willing to accept the action for what it really is, says Connell. It was very common for people to deny that the death was suicide but rather an accident, or they would blame themselves for the victim's death.

Connell adds people are generally becoming more honest and have a better attitude towards mental health issues. Suicide is no longer plagued with stigma, as it was in the past.

"Unfortunately, people still have a poor idea of how many individuals are suicidal, because suicide attempts are not accounted for in the statistics," Steele says. She adds that the most important way to prevent suicide is to teach children assertive problem-solving skills and effective ways to handle stress and conflict at a very early age.

Societal issues such as poverty, family conflicts, unemployment and violence also have an effect on children because they add to the stresses of their lives. If these societal injustices decrease, it is likely that suicide rates will too, Steele adds.

Overall, there is hope for reducing the suicide rate, because there is so much that we can do to educate people and to assist people, Connell says. Our society needs to continue to talk more openly about this issue, to be more willing to acknowledge that a problem exists and to make more people aware of the endless resources that they can turn to in times of need.

People tend to be more open about it and are more willing to acknowledge it, now more than in the past, Steele says. The impossible model of perfection is also put into perspective this way, reducing the perception that we have to mold ourselves to be like these people. Readiness to talk and to accept suicide contributes greatly to the task of suicide prevention.

"Readiness to talk and to accept suicide contributes greatly to the task of suicide prevention," she concludes.

©Graphic by Colin Dunne

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