World Mental Health Day – A Focus on Suicide Prevention for Individuals with FASD

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Please note this blog post deals with sensitive subject matter, such as mental illness and suicide. If you are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, or you just need to talk to someone, please contact Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or text CONNECT to Kid’s Help Phone at 686868. If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1.

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October 6 to 12 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a public education campaign in Canada designed to increase our understanding of the realities of mental illnesses!

This year, Mental Illness Awareness Week happens to coincide with World Mental Health Day, a global celebration held every year on October 10th.  The goal of World Mental Health day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world, and to garner supports and resources for mental health initiatives.

The focus for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Globally, it is estimated close to 800 000 people die from suicide every single year. On World Mental Health Day the goal is to raise awareness of suicide and the role that each and every one of us can play in suicide prevention.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, approximately 10 people die by suicide every day in Canada, translating to approximately 4000 deaths every year. 90% of individuals who died from suicide were living with a mental health problem or mental illness.

But death from suicide is only part of the whole picture. For every one person who dies from suicide, there are 5 hospitalizations resulting from self-inflicted injury and 25-30 suicide attempts.

What’s even worse is that these numbers aren’t anticipated to accurately represent the actual rates of suicide in Canada. A number of factors, including stigma, may prevent family members, health professionals, coroners and others to avoid labeling or reporting deaths as suicide. This means that the actual rates of suicide in Canada are anticipated to be much higher.

Suicide is a global issue that impacts whole families, neighbourhoods, and communities. But suicide rates are higher in certain populations, such as in individuals with FASD.

Approximately 11.8% of Canadians have reported thinking about suicide, and 3.1% have made a suicide attempt. Comparatively, recent research shows that 17% of individuals with FASD in Canada have experienced suicidal thoughts or a serious suicide attempt. These numbers are highest in vulnerable age groups, such as adolescents with FASD.

Research has shown that the rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in individuals with FASD have been consistently high over the last several decades. Almost one third of high-functioning adolescents with FASD (32.5%) had reported thinking about suicide. Of that sample, 13% had made at least one suicide attempt in the last year so serious that they required medical assistance.

In fact, compared to other teenagers, adolescents with FASD are 5.5 times more likely to make a serious suicide attempt.

We have a number of suicide prevention supports in Canada. Along with national crisis hotlines, there are also local crisis centres and support groups across Canada. In 2016, per the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the Government of Canada released The Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention outlining the multidisciplinary strategy proposed to improve action, research, and best practices in suicide prevention.

However, despite the high rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in individuals with FASD, none of these suicide prevention strategies are specific to individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

We need targeted strategies for suicide prevention to support individuals with FASD. But we need more than this. We need to conduct more research to determine why suicide rates are so high in this population; only then can we ensure that the supports and resources we’re putting in the most effective, and efficient solutions to manage these concerns.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal intentions, there are resources that can help. If you are in immediate crisis please call 9-1-1. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are people that you can talk to. National Crisis Centres in Canada include Kid’s Help Phone, Crisis Services Canada, and Youthspace (for Canadians under 30 years of age). You can also search for local crisis centres here. Many of these centres have 24 hour support services.

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