'I Want to Rid the World of Suicide'

I want to rid the world of suicide.

I know, on the surface, how ridiculous that may sound to people.

After all, I am only one psychiatrist in a relatively small area and suicide has consistently remained a silent epidemic with little change in statistics in spite of the fact awareness and access to mental health services has never been greater.

What difference can I possibly make?

Well, there is a movement coming out of the U.S. which suggests you and I, as mental health professionals, can make a significant difference by shifting our attitude and changing our approach.

On the surface, the Zero Suicide initiative sounds bold. It challenges the status quo in healthcare and takes direct aim at lowering suicide rates. At its core, Zero Suicide is a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioural health care systems, and also a specific set of tools and strategies. It is both a concept and a practice.

The Zero Suicide initiative incorporates the following elements in its approach: 

LEAD - Create a leadership-driven, safety-oriented culture committed to dramatically reducing suicide among people under care. Include suicide attempt and loss survivors in leadership and planning roles.

TRAIN - Develop a competent, confident, and caring workforce.

IDENTIFY - Systematically identify and assess suicide risk among people receiving care.

ENGAGE - Ensure every person has a suicide care management plan, or pathway to care, that is both timely and adequate to meet his or her needs. Include collaborative safety planning and restriction of lethal means.

TREAT - Use effective, evidence-based treatments that directly target suicidality.

TRANSITION - Provide continuous contact and support, especially after acute care.

IMPROVE - Apply a data-driven quality improvement approach to inform system changes that will lead to improved patient outcomes and better care for those at risk.

In Canada, the suicide rate for adults has not decreased significantly since 2000, when it dipped less than two per cent from the previous year. Roughly, 3,500 Canadians die of suicide every year.

To me, that number is astounding. Mental health in our society has never been a more accepted topic of conversation. Today governments are recognizing the impact mental illness has on society and corporations are contributing to bring about positive change and eliminate stigma.

Yet, still, the suicide rate remains virtually unchanged in spite of the significant strides mental health care has made in public perception in the last decade.

In the U.S., health systems adopting the Zero Suicide initiative have witnessed real change. While the goal of eliminating suicides may seem lofty or unattainable, the impact of this aspirational goal has been paramount in building and maintaining a culture that refuses to tolerate suicide and strives to eliminate it. In places where the Zero Suicide initiative has been implemented, it has become a rallying call for health care professionals.

In Ontario, we are on the verge on joining this challenge.

Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, is it time for us to begin the journey toward this refusal to accept the status quo.  Whether is through the Zero Suicide initiative or through our own personal refusal to accept the norm, we have the ability to bring about real change to every issue impacting mental health.

I encourage you to learn more about the Zero Suicide initiative.