Starting the conversation can help stop suicide

Suicide prevention campaign uses coffee shops to “Keep Him Here.”


(Edmonton) The Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research at the University of Alberta, along with the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Suicide Prevention Network, including the Support Network and Distress Centre Calgary, are recognizing World Suicide Prevention Day Sept. 10 with an attention-grabbing suicide prevention campaign and media event at a local coffee shop.

Every year, nearly one million people die by suicide around the world. That’s one death every 40 seconds. Nationally, Alberta has the third highest provincial suicide rate.

In Alberta each year, more than 500 people take their own lives. And although suicide is often considered a problem faced mainly by young people, one of the highest risk groups for suicide is middle-aged men. In fact, more than 75 per cent of Alberta’s suicide deaths are men, most between the ages of 30 and 69.

Kathy Belton, associate director of the centre, says, “This number is shocking. We need to start the conversation with Albertans about what’s happening to the men in our lives. These are our fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, uncles and grandfathers who are gone from our lives.”

To address the issue, the Alberta Suicide Prevention Network is launching Keep Him Here, a new provincial campaign designed to empower people with middle-aged men in their lives to take the first steps and recognize the signs, start the conversation and reach out to help.

On Sept. 10, people were invited to Trendz Café at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute to have a free cup of coffee or tea and learn more about the campaign. Coffee shops are places where Albertans naturally gather to discuss what is happening at home, work, school and the rink. They are also a place where people can talk about mental wellness and suicide.

Communities across the province are also hosting local events to raise awareness of the issue.

Joan Roy, executive director with Distress Centre Calgary, notes that “the stigma around mental illness and suicide may prevent middle-aged men from reaching out and seeking support during times of crisis. If a man in your life is struggling, you can be the one to help him.”

These sentiments are echoed by health-care professionals and other suicide prevention agencies across the province that tackling suicide often starts with conversation about a man’s mental health.

Michael Trew, chief addictions and mental health officer with Alberta Health, says, "As a physician I have been trained to relieve suffering and reduce preventable deaths. The World Health Organization estimates that 90 per cent of all suicide victims have some kind of mental health condition. Suicide is preventable, and this type of suicide prevention campaign makes for good medicine."

Nancy McCalder, executive director with The Support Network in Edmonton, says, “The important thing is that we all know the signs, try to start the conversation about suicide and reach out for help.”