Suicide does not discriminate.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day… and by the time I finish writing this post, more people will have died by suicide. According to the World Health Organization, suicide kills one person every 40 seconds. That’s on average about 800,000 people a year – and for every person who dies by suicide, many more people attempt suicide every year.


It’s a staggering figure and a significant one that demands more attention. It happens to the rich and poor… young and old… the mentally stable and ill. Suicide does not discriminate. While we typically think suicide is linked to mental health issues (i.e. depression and alcohol use), many suicides also happen impulsively in moments of crisis and life stresses such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness. Suicide rates are also high amongst people who experience discrimination, such as refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples, LGBTI persons, and prisoners.

Talking about suicide is no joke. There’s a fine line between joking about it and to actually thinking about self-harm and suicide. And if this leads to an attempt, then it’s definitely time to pay attention before it’s too late. The Canadian Mental Health Association has an easy way to remember the warning signs:


There are plenty of resources about suicide prevention and education. Ones that I’ve found useful in Canada include:

I found these resources useful because they focus on providing information about preventing and understanding suicide, as well as helping me process my experience with a suicide death. One of the best things when I moved back to Vancouver was to find that there’s a specific suicide support service called SAFER (Suicide Attempt Follow-up, Education and Research). Not only is SAFER a community-based outpatient service that provides counseling for people who are feeling suicidal, it provides free counseling for people bereaved by a suicide death.


From a public health policy perspective, suicide is a complex issue and so prevention requires coordination and collaboration between various health and non-health sectors – WHO’s recommendations for prevention and control includes:

  • Reducing access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications)
  • Reporting by media in a responsible way
  • Introducing alcohol policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol
  • Early identification, treatment and care of people with mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and acute emotional distress
  • Training of non-specialized health workers in the assessment and management of suicidal behaviour
  • Follow-up care for people who attempted suicide and provision of community support

Suicide prevention is a good goal… in the meantime many people have to deal with the aftermath. I found the below video really helpful to connect with what I am going through, and also to share with people who want an insight into the grief from suicide.

Being positive is good for health and communications

It’s been a while since I’ve flipped though my subscription of Communication Arts – I finally got through the 2013 Photography Annual and found a bit of inspiration, particularly drawn to photos related to health. Photos are a great way to share our emotions, relationships and connections with people and things. And there’s no more personal connection than to personal health.


A campaign pointing out the health risks caused by smoking in cars. Headline: Don’t ignore their wishes / Alex Telfer

What is it about the world of media that uses negative imagery to try to catch people’s attention? There’s that saying about news: it’s not “Dog bites man”, but rather “Man bites dog” that will get the headlines. Yet, a lot has changed when it comes to this kind of view on news, and more broadly communication. With the ever-growing access to information and communication channels, communication professionals might think about placing less emphasis on the negative side of issues – especially if we want people to take action and do something. For example, researchers in 2007 found that the more students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more inclined they were to smoke. Results from the study suggest that campaigns don’t work by convincing individuals to avoid tobacco, but rather by helping change the social norms surrounding smoking. This means positivity works better than negativity, especially in a time where positive messages are more likely to spread and engage people, as shown by this study “Upbeat Content Best Bet for Anti-tobacco Messaging” or this report by the New York Times “Good News Beats Bad on Social Networks“.

These photos from CA’s photography annual shows that communication can have an impact when it strikes a cord between something visual, emotional, and making a positive connection.


Assignment to illustrate a feature story, “Water for All” about the state of fresh water health and policies, or lack there of, governing right of capture rules / Woody Welch


“Senior Moments.” – for these senior Olympians, age is just a number, and competition is a lifelong passion / Gregg Segal


Trade advertising campaign to healthcare professionals for a new cancer drug. Portraits capture honest moments of joy as patients receive the good news / Peter Beavis

#IceBucketChallenge haters – Get over yourselves

At work, we recently released the Global Humanitarian Overview Status Update where there are no less than 25 major emergencies and crises around the world that are being funded (or underfunded). There are also plenty of smaller or less prominent issues and causes happening at the same time that deserve attention and support. The question is “how do you choose which one to support”?


For many people (including me) this summer, the cause they chose to support was the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral campaign to raise awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disease. According to the ALS Canada website:

People living with the disease become progressively paralyzed due to degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Eighty per cent of people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis– unable to breathe or swallow. Ten per cent of those affected may live for 10 years or longer.

This sounds like a horrible disease, but we should celebrate that, through the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, people are learning about, raising awareness for, and even donating to a cause that resonates with them. At the end of the day, people will know a little bit more about ALS, encouraged their friends and families to do the same, and organizations working on the disease will have the funds and resources to continue doing research and find answers to the disease… nothing wrong there, right?


So what’s up with all this criticism about about the campaign, from saving water to donating to a cause that deserves it more? Some of the points raised makes sense, but successful campaigns normally strike a cord with the heart rather than the head. Also if there are plenty of causes to choose to support, should we be slamming or shaking our heads at people who have made their choice and are doing something about it?

No campaign will be perfect and there will always be critics, but the fact that more people know about the cause and hopefully do something about it (ex. tell friends, donate, change their lives, etc.) is a good thing.

As for the #icebucketchallenge haters out there, you might not like the campaign, think that it’s foolish for people to dump water over themselves, and probably have better ideas/causes to support. You’re entitled to your opinion and I’d be happy to hear about the causes that interests you, how you’re supporting it and, if it resonates with me, how I can get involved. If the only thing you’re doing is to use the Challenge’s awareness and spotlight to blast an important health issue, who’s really doing damage?

By the way, here’s the true story about the Challenge for ALS.