The senior medical director of addiction and mental health for Alberta Health Services, Dr. Michael Trew, issued a press release on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, to remind Albertans of the issue and stress the importance of being aware of warning signs, such as talking about suicide and expressing hopelessness.
“Some people believe talking to someone who may be suicidal puts the idea in their head. In actuality, being ready to openly discuss suicide lets the person know you care and want to help,” says Trew.
Alberta sees about 400 suicides a year, mainly by adult men. According to 2009 statistics from Alberta’s chief medical examiner, the most recent available, males account for nearly four out of every five people who commit suicide in the province.
Robert Olson of the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary says people tend to be surprised to learn middle-aged men are the most at risk for committing suicide, often because the media ignores the trend and due to societal expectations of men’s emotional strength.
“Men tend not to reach out as often as women for help, until maybe it’s too late,” says Olson.
Northern rural Alberta saw 150 of the 487 suicides in 2009. Olson says that is primarily because of conditions in the oilpatch that set men up for overwhelming stress.
“Men coming from Newfoundland or wherever, cut off from their families, and you throw alcohol and drugs into the mix too; makes them more at risk for sure,” says Olson.
Despite the scarcity of public knowledge of the issue, there are programs focused on preventing suicide in Alberta’s oilpatch and other resource industries. Olson says educating people and removing the stigma around actively seeking help is key, but he worries the nature of our society makes it an uphill battle.
“In a culture such as ours — a patriarchal culture — I can’t see things changing any time soon. Any incremental change is good,” says Olson. But, he adds, “the initiative and awareness is increasing.”