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Editorial: Suicide prevention doesn’t just take a day

The province has announced plans for a new suicide prevention strategy in the wake of increasing public pressure on the MacLauchlan government to address concerns about gaps in mental health services in P.E.I.

Today is not World Suicide Prevention Day.

That was Monday, Sept. 10.

There was plenty about it on both social media and in the traditional news media.

Much of it quieted down, though, as the day came to a close.

But that doesn’t mean you should simply move on to raising awareness about Mindfulness Day or the American National Day of Encouragement (Sept. 12).

Suicide is an issue that doesn’t work on the calendar, or on any clock, for that matter. Anyone who has ever considered suicide knows that depression and suicidal thoughts can arise anywhere and at any time. If you haven’t ever experienced them, you are among the lucky: the experience is exhausting and often debilitating. And if the symptoms were connected to an obvious physical ailment, the people who know you would be urging you to seek medical help.

Mental illnesses, however, are still treated differently, despite the toll that they take. The World Health Organization lists suicide as the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. In Britain, it’s the leading cause of death for men under 45. Suicide takes 800,000 lives a year around the world, 45,000 a year in the United States alone. Close to 4,500 Canadians died that way in 2016.

There are probably very few people reading these words who haven’t been touched by suicide and the effects it has on families and friends. You never know how close it is: behind this editorial is a writer who has been in exactly that spot and was saved by the care and awareness of others.

So, what should you do, now that the official day of recognition is over?

The International Association for Suicide Prevention has some suggestions: “Raise awareness about the issue, educate yourself and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs for suicide, show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your community … Question the stigma associated with suicide, suicidal behavior and mental health problems and share your own experiences.”

Now, that was their suggestion for Monday.

Think about it for every single day.

Reach out when you sense that someone might be in trouble. Social isolation is listed as one of the highest risk factors for suicide. The worst thing you can be is wrong, and there’s no shame in that. Reach out when you don’t hear from someone, when they turn down invitations, when they seem to be walking into the shadows.

And when someone asks for help, step up.

Oh, and help is not just using a Twitter hashtag that gets lots of traction for a day or two every year.

Yes, World Suicide Prevention Day 2018 has moved into the history books.

Awareness, and action, about suicide prevention has to be much, much more.

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