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.

Source: http://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/world_report_2014/en/
Source: http://www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/world_report_2014/en/

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:

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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.

safer

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.

Getting down with tech to solve crime and reduce vomit

Social media isn’t just for “fun”. All the sharing that people do via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. can actually help fight crime, improve hygiene, and provide insight into how to improve services (like having less traffic jams) and keep us safe. While the humanitarian community has been looking into how tech can be used to save lives in disaster or conflict-prone countries, you don’t have to go too far to find that the integration of tech and basic public services like policing and public health can make our lives easier, safer, and maybe just maybe filled with less vomit.

In a study earlier this year, researchers at the University of Rochester used a Twitter search tool called nEmesis to identity cases of food poisoning with tweets that had GPS coordinates. In just four months, the system collected 3.8 million tweets from more than 94,000 unique users in New York City, traced 23,000 restaurant visitors, and found 480 reports of likely food poisoning. The public health sector has typically been ahead of the curve when it comes to prevention and early warning to reduce the risk of, say, an epidemic of a virus.

Another example of how tech and social data can actually help is in crime-fighting. It might not be far off from the tech that Batman uses like the Batcomputer. Just ask IBM : they’ve been working with the police to setup systems that will use pattern recognition and anomaly detection technology on existing records like 911 calls, crime records, and building permit activity. Patterns revealed can help decision makers anticipate rather than just react to problems.

“We’re entering a new era of police work,” says the Fort Lauderdale Police Chief.

One of the funniest comedy shows this year has been Brooklyn Nine-Nine and in one of the episodes this season they even touch on the fact that “real crime-fighting” these days is about about using data and technology to solve crimes! In the episode “Old School“, despite coming to work with a huge hangover from a drinking binge the night before, Jake, the main character, pulls together and figures out how to find the IP address of the guy who’s been stealing credit card numbers.