by Tarah Hodgkinson
September marks suicide prevention month. Numerous events and strategies are popping up around the world from RU OK? Day in Australia to #Bethe1To in the United States. All of these strategies are attempting to address suicide and mental health.
In many of the neighbourhoods where we work, suicide and mental health is a common topic. Indeed, I spent time with a rural community a few weeks ago in which residents recounted the loss of several young lives to suicide. This has only been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19 related to social isolation and financial insecurity. Fortunately, there are suicide prevention strategies that can make a difference.
Suicide prevention can take many forms. Target hardening approaches try to increase the effort to take one’s life in the hopes of saving lives by making suicide more difficult.
Some of these efforts include physical barriers, such as fencing on tall bridges to prevent jumping. Others are somewhat unintentional, such as removing carbon monoxide from domestic gas supplies in the UK that resulted in almost a 100% decrease in suicides by gas poisoning.
HOW, BUT NOT WHY
While these kinds of target hardening prevention strategies are useful, and often successful, they do not address the why of suicide. Suicide is often the last resort, an attempt to escape inconceivable pain and trauma. This pain and trauma do not occur in a vacuum but are influenced by a person’s mental health and their environment. One example is long-term mental health problems arising from adolescent bullying in the neighborhood. Another example is adverse childhood experiences within the family.
Clearly, suicide prevention can do much more than a marketing campaign to tell people to reach out, or by making suicide more difficult.
While the risk factors for suicide range from individual to ecological, there are numerous ways that we can make our neighbourhoods and communities more resilient to suicide. These include structural changes such as affordable and accessible housing and shelter, paying people a living wage, creating neighborhood opportunities for youth and the elderly and inexpensive access to health care including locally-based, mental health and trauma-informed care.
If we are to fully address and mitigate suicide, these structural changes are integral in the creation of a healthy neighborhood.
Healthy and liveable neighbourhoods, where people are connected, cohesive and cared for play an important role in improving mental health and preventing suicide. And we all have a role to play in that kind of prevention.