SaltWire E-Edition

We can do more to reduce suicide rates

DR. SIMON SHERRY NOELLE SEGATO Dr. Simon Sherry is a clinical psychologist, owner of CRUX Psychology and Dalhousie University professor. Noelle Segato is a writer, communications co-ordinator at CRUX Psychology and student pursuing her MFA at Dalhousie Un

Sept 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day. As such, there is no better time to call attention to the data recently released by the province on suicide in Nova Scotia.

The number and rate of suicide deaths have reached a record high and this should be nothing less than a call to action. With or without the global holiday, prevention is clearly needed here at home.

In 2022, 155 Nova Scotians died by suicide. That’s the highest number in the 14 years the data covers. Over 1,200 more people received care following self-harm and suicide attempts. It is likely there are many more that are not captured within this data because they struggled to ask for help.

Suicide rates are increasing across the province and it cannot be attributed to just population growth. In 2020, the suicide rate dropped to 12.3 per 100,000, but quickly jumped to 14.8 in 2021 and then 15.5 in 2022. The big question is why?

External factors such as socioeconomic events (e.g., job loss) and seasonal changes affect suicide rates. Each year, there are a higher number of deaths by suicide in Nova Scotia during the spring and summer.

Suicide rates appear lowest in Nova Scotia’s central zone and highest in the western zone. This data may be influenced by various vulnerability factors. Those with insecure housing, unstable home lives and lower levels of education are at greater risk of death by suicide. These are issues we can address.

Other risk factors for suicide, however, cannot be controlled. Two influencing factors in risk of death by suicide are age and sex. Suicide rates in Nova Scotia are highest amongst men aged 45-59.

Rising suicide rates in

Nova Scotia are, in some ways, linked to the province’s health-care crisis. More health-care professionals and reduced wait times would mean people already in crisis get the help they need when they need it. However, this should only be a small part of the effort. Real prevention happens when we aim our efforts at reducing the number of people who get to that point of crisis.

Think of it like road safety. We can and do treat individuals involved in car crashes, but we have saved many more lives by preventing accidents

with improved safety measures. Changes to car and road design like seatbelts, airbags and roundabouts have saved countless lives. Road safety is addressed beyond individual responsibility. It has been a massive society-wide undertaking, and suicide prevention needs to be treated the same way.

Applying the same level of innovation to preventing suicide would mean advocacy to reduce mental health stigma, policy changes to address determinants of suicide like insecure housing, and reduced access to lethal means. For example,

limiting access to guns and large volumes of medications and installing bridge barriers would decrease the risk of death by suicide.

However, the most common method of suicide death in Nova Scotia is hanging or suffocation. We cannot restrict rope sales, but we can remove ligature points, especially in environments where there are increased rates of suicide, such as hospitals and prisons.

What would happen if we replaced doorknobs with motion-sensor sliding doors and sconces with recessed ceiling lights? What if we opted for shelves instead of coat hooks?

Nova Scotians deserve better than another recordbreaking number of suicides in 2023. By improving the health and safety of the population, we can reduce death by suicide.





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