What families can do to help
Friday December 29, 2000
Stories by Johanna Weidner

Talking openly about suicide is difficult, but it could save the life of someone overcome by depression.

Fred Wagner, co-ordinator of Grand River Hospital's crisis clinic, said broaching the taboo subject is a great opportunity to reach out to someone who despairs of life.

"People are sometimes very fearful of doing that because they don't want to put the idea in the person's head," Wagner said. "But, in fact, it gives them a chance to talk about what (the person is) already thinking about."

Often, being able to share feelings of wanting to die is a great relief to the suicidal person, Wagner said.

But before that can happen, families need to be aware of symptoms of depression and warning signs of suicide.

"By and large, people tend to give some indication (that) things aren't well at all," Wagner explained.


Marked change in personality;

Inability to cope with problems or daily activities;

Change in sleeping or eating patterns;

No interest in activities that are usually enjoyed;

Difficulty concentrating;

Alcohol or drug abuse;

Thinking or talking about suicide.

Wagner said bells should go off when someone suddenly seems happy and upbeat after a period of depression, or if that person starts to give away possessions. This new-found resolve may mean the person has decided to end his life.

Across Canada, about 3,500 commit suicide every year, accounting for approximately two per cent of all deaths.

In Waterloo Region, 43 people killed themselves in 1997, the last year for which statistics are available. For every suicide, there are approximately 100 attempts.

Between 1989 and 1991, suicide was the second leading cause of death, after accidents, for Canadians aged 15 to 29.

Almost four times as many males as females take their own lives. Suicide rates for men peak between 20 and 34 and again above the age of 80, while the rate for women peaks between 35 and 49.

Many studies have found that people with depression are at significantly higher risk than the general population for both suicide and non-fatal suicidal behaviour.

Wagner said statistics don't show a sharp increase in suicide rates over the holidays, but the crisis clinic does take more calls than usual, with many people expressing heightened feelings of depression and hopelessness.

"It certainly is a time when people can really struggle," he said.

Because everybody handles situations differently, it's difficult to predict what can trigger a suicide. That's why many are unexpected and shocking for families.

"One will never know what was going on in that person's mind," he said.

Friends and family can't help but wonder what they could have done differently, but such questions will forever haunt them, Wagner said.


If you see any of the above symptoms in a friend or relative, call Grand River's mental health out-patient services at 749-4310, the crisis clinic at 742-3611 or the Canadian Mental Health Association's Distress Centre at 745-1166.

For support after suicide, call Bereaved Families of Ontario at 745-7280.

For those in other areas of Canada and or the world, call your local Mental Health Association, your local hospital, or crisis lines.

since December 30, 2000