According to the World Health Organization (WHO), someone around the globe commits suicide every 40 seconds. In the year 2000, 815,000 people lost their lives to suicide — more than double the number of people who die as a direct result of armed conflict every year (306,600). For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide.1
Canada and Ontario
The suicide rate for Canadians, as measured by the WHO, is 15 per 100,000 people. Yet, according to numerous studies, rates are even higher among specific groups. For example, the suicide rate for Inuit peoples living in Northern Canada is between 60 and 75 per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the general population.2 Other populations at an increased risk of suicide include youth, the elderly, inmates in correctional facilities, people with a mental illness, and those who have previously attempted suicide.3 According to Statistics Canada, between 1997 and 1999, there was a 10 percent increase in suicides across Canada, from 3,681 to 4,074. In Ontario alone, suicides rose from 930 in 1997 to 1,032 in 2001.
Men commit suicide at a rate four times higher than that of women. According to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), more men in Ontario committed suicide in the past 10 years than died in car crashes.4 Approximately 591 men committed suicide in Ontario between 1990 and 2000, while 558 men died in car crashes. Women, however, make 3 to 4 times more suicide attempts than men do,5 and women are hospitalized in general hospitals for attempted suicide at 1.5 times the rate of men.6 Studies indicate that there is a significant correlation between a history of sexual abuse and the lifetime number of suicide attempts, and this correlation is twice as strong for women as for men.
In Canada, suicide accounts for 24 percent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16 percent among 16-44 year olds. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24.8 Seventy-three percent of hospital admissions for attempted suicide are for people between the ages of 15 and 44.
Suicide and Mental Illness
People with mood disorders are at a particularly high risk of suicide.9 Studies indicate that more than 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable psychiatric illness,10 and suicide is the most common cause of death for people with schizophrenia.11 Both major depression and bipolar disorder account for 15 to 25 percent of all deaths by suicide in patients with severe mood disorders.12 According to Toronto Metro Police Mental Health Act data, the number of documented suicide attempts rose 14 percent from 1996 to 2001. Statistics Canada reports that suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in Canada.13
Despite a commonly held myth that the Christmas season has the highest suicide rate of all the seasons, studies have proven that across North America, suicide rates are actually lower at that time of year.14 Studies suggest that while the holidays can bring up some very difficult emotions, they also tend to evoke feelings of familial bonds and these feelings may act as a buffer against suicide.15
It is important to note, however, that while suicide rates do not increase over the holiday season, depression rates do. Numerous studies, as well as anecdotal evidence from the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and the Toronto Distress Centre, confirm that both the number and severity of calls by depressed persons increases every year through November and December, returning to normal volume towards the end of January.
Late July and August have the highest suicide rate out of all the months of the year. Some studies suggest that the increase is due to the seasonal change and that this period is one that often brings about changes in personal situations as well. It is suggested that all these elements of change – whether there are dramatic changes happening in someone’s life, or whether someone feels defeated because their situation seems to never change – can lead people to suicide. A number of studies indicate that an especially high-risk time for vulnerable teens is when they go back to school. Whatever the reason, the rates are so high among aboriginal youth at this time of year that the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says autumn is referred to as the ‘suicide season.’16
- World Health Organization (October 2002). World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva. www.who.int.
- Weir, E., & Wallington, T. (2001). Suicide: The hidden epidemic. CMAJ (2001; 165).
- Canadian Institute for Health Information (December 2002). Ontario Trauma Registry 2002 Report Injury Deaths in Ontario. [Online]. Available: www.cihi.ca.
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (September 2002). Understanding depression statistics.
- Health Canada (October 2002). A report on mental illness in Canada. Ottawa, Canada. Available: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca.
- Women’s Health Planning Project Final Report (January 2000). Women’s mental health: Gender differences among adult mental health team clients. [Online]. Available: www.vcn.bc.ca.
- Canadian Psychiatric Association (2002). Mental Illness Awareness Week fact sheet.
- Mann, J.J. (2002). A current perspective of suicide and attempted suicide [review]. Ann Intern Med, 136.
- Harkavy-Friedman, J.M., & Nelson, E. (1997). Management of suicidal patients with schizophrenia. Psychiatr Clin North Am 20(3).
- Goodwin, F.K., & Jamison, K.R. (1990). Manic-Depressive Illness. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- IMS HEALTH, Canada (March 2001). Annual review of prescribing and diagnoses trends. [Online]. Available: www.imshealthcanada.com.
- Suicide Information & Education Centre (November 2002). SIEC ALERT #16: Are suicide rates higher at Christmas? [Online]. Available: www.suicideinfo.ca.
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (November-December 2001). Aboriginal suicide epidemic feared. Journal of Addiction and Mental Health.