Via The Record
Every year, more Canadians kill themselves than die by car accidents, HIV, homicide, drowning, influenza and war combined.
In Ontario alone, the suicide rate doubles the road toll most years, according to figures obtained from the Office of the Chief Coroner.
Despite this, preventive awareness campaigns and funding for suicide pales in comparison to all other public safety issues, experts told the Toronto Star.
“The amount of money we spend on other causes of death far, far outstrip what we spend on mental health and suicide prevention,” said University of Western Ontario clinical psychologist Dr. Marnin Heisel.
“Most Canadians are not aware of just how many people take their lives and the urgent need for action on that front,” he said.
Former Ontario health minister George Smitherman, who lost his husband to suicide in December, believes this reality paints a shameful picture.
“If you think about all the focus and attention on all those other issues; you always hear about them, but with suicide you just don’t,” he said.
The lack of awareness was likely linked to what Smitherman described as the “emotional disease index” that sways government decision-making and drives public funding.
As a minister of health, you have to think about your “emotional vulnerability or political sensitivity” to an issue, Smitherman said.
“Stigma is a big, big influencer here. You are not going to come under pressure to fund something if nobody’s talking about it.
You are going to come under pressure if everyone’s talking about it, and they’re talking about it with a tear in their eye.”
Childhood cancer would rank highly on the index; suicide would not, he said.
“Those diseases which have stigma associated with them are invariably operating at a disadvantage that stems from people’s unwillingness to bring them out of the shadows.”
Smitherman’s husband, Christopher Peloso, 40, stormed out of their west-end home and killed himself after an argument “over nothing” late last year.
Two months earlier Peloso, who was a stay-at-home dad to the couple’s two adopted children, had disappeared for a few days and was found near train tracks close to the family’s home.
Smitherman, who came second to Rob Ford in the 2010 Toronto mayoral race, said his husband had struggled with mental health issues for years, but the “pain in his brain” had become unrelenting near the end.
“Christopher started to convince himself that he was holding us all back,” Smitherman said.
“In a bitter moment, I could conjure up a feeling that that was selfish, but the mind is just not as easy to fix as a broken leg.”
Every year about 4,000 people on average commit suicide in Canada, making it the ninth-leading cause of death in the country, according to Statistics Canada.
Every few hours, someone in this country dies by suicide, “just think about that,” Heisel said.
“Think about a public event that would draw a crowd of 4,000 people; that’s the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets just disappearing,” he said.
In Ontario, the suicide rate has climbed from 1,093 in 2008 to 1,246 in 2012, coroner figures show.
Canada is one of only a few countries in the western world that does not have a national suicide prevention campaign because health care is governed at a provincial level. Heisel said this could be contributing to the rising suicide rate.
The total cost of suicide and self harm in Canada is estimated to be $2.4 billion a year in lost economic productivity of the dead and mental health programs for the grieving families left behind, according to SMARTRISK’s The Economic Burden of Injury in Canada report.
Smitherman, Heisel and other experts all called for increased awareness of suicide and earlier interventions for people at risk.
“The one thing I can do is talk about it,” Smitherman said.
“I’ve told hundreds of people about the nature and means of my loss and that is taking power of it and that is breaking down stigma.”
However, Smitherman has yet to tell his children, Michael, 5, and Kayla, 4, that their father’s death was by his own hand.
He fears that one day soon a classmate at their school will read a news story and tell his children their father killed himself.
“This is something I think about almost every day,” he said.
“I’ve started to explain to them that pain is the hurt we feel in our body when we get an injury, but that there is pain that is inside us that comes from our brain,” he said.
“I need to make sure they understand that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t them and it wasn’t anybody that we know. It’s just that the chemistry was off in Dada’s brain.”
In the year 2011, 3,728 people died by suicide, 2,158 in car accidents, 527 by homicide, 303 by HIV, 482 from influenza and 253 from drowning, according to Statistics Canada.
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