Second in a Series
Our communities are struggling with tragic personal and relational areas of mental health. This month we will explore Suicide and Self-Harm. Breaking through the confusion can build acceptance and foster care for our friends.
Suicide & Self-Harm
Suicide and self-harming behavior affect all our communities across Canada, as highlighted in recent media articles and reports.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) explains that in Canada 11 people die from suicide every day, 210 attempt to end their lives, while up to 110 people will be newly bereaved because of suicide. Suicide and self-harm are central issues in all racial, cultural, social groups and ages. It is easy to assume that self-harm is a failed suicide attempt; however, suicide and self-harm have different focuses and intended outcomes. It is vital for us to understand the difference to enable the church and community to offer care and support.
The essence of suicide and self-harm is to stop or divert pain. This pain is emotional and psychological, expressed in depression, hopelessness, shame and a feeling of powerlessness. The individual seeks a solution to the mental torment, either as a final release from the burden on others or a daily managing of life through self-harm.
Self-harm is the intentional and deliberate hurting of oneself. It may help the sufferer express or escape feelings of emptiness and depression, relief from rage and fear or release of emotional pain. This is a short-lived reprieve. Each year one in five females and one in seven males self-harm, with 90% being between the ages of 14-24 and 50% have survived sexual abuse. Though the act of self-harm is not a precursor to suicide, the pain that causes people to self-harm may also drive them to suicide. Suicidal attempts, gestures and plans are more likely to be spoken about; therefore, any act of self-harm should alert others to significant emotional distress.
“Suicide and self-harm have different focuses and intended outcomes. It is vital for us to understand the difference, to enable the church and community to offer care and support.”
Suicide is defined as an “act deliberately initiated and performed by a person in the full knowledge or expectation of its fatal outcome” (The World Health Organization). Mental illness is involved in most suicide cases, especially as a consequence of depression, post-traumatic stress or substance abuse. However, no single determinant is enough on its own to cause a suicide. Someone commits suicide every 40 seconds globally. Of the 3,890 suicides (2009) in Canada, men are three times more likely to be the fatalities and those between 40-59 are shockingly the highest level of all suicides. Sadly, suicide is also the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 34. For most First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities youth suicides are five to six times higher than non-Native youth.
Both suicide and self-harm have one common objective – emotional pain management. However, suicide is directed at stopping the misery that those impacted by the emotional pain experience, while self-harm seeks to personally manage the pain in their lives. The shame and contempt within each struggling individual seeks a solution to their personal battle. Each person has either resorted to a deliberate act of distraction or an absolute end to the torment. Both focus on a remedy to the emotional quagmire!
What resolution is there for hopelessness, despair and abuse? For shame that is insurmountable? The answer is in the struggle that we all face – acceptance through honesty, openness and time to be with the pain.
Grieving the loss of different parts of our lives, and the willingness to remain present, is the hardest yet simplest gift that each of us can offer one another.
Karen Pitt, a psychotherapist with more than 25 years practice, has extensive experience in individual and group therapy, as well as facilitating workshops and support groups. She attends the Church of the Incarnation Oakville.