Students should not fight suicide alone

Jessenia Feijo
Life reporter

Despite efforts to raise awareness about suicide, the persistence of the phenomenon among Ontarians is sobering.

Suicide is often looked at as a permanent solution to temporary problems, said Dr. Dan Andreae, a psychology teacher at the University of Guelph-Humber.

“At that point people just see no hope and no way out,” said Andreae. “Hard to imagine if you’re not in that position but it’s like all doors are closed and the world is down and it darkens and there’s just no way out,”
Andreae said people are trying in part to find a way to end their pain.

It comes down to one’s emotions and how overwhelming they can be.

“It’s a time-limited event whatever they are facing and they have lost hope,” said Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman chair of University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

There are a lot more people who are depressed than suicidal, noted Fuller-Thomson.

The Chief Coroner of Ontario’s office, said in 2010, the total suicides in the province were 260, in 2011 it was 264 and in 2012 there were 269.

“That deep feeling of despair does not mean people cannot get through it. While we hope for the best, sometimes people, in the acute phase of despair, lose perspective and think death is the only option,” said Fuller-Thomson.

Sometimes, depending on the depths of the depression, people either can talk their way through therapy or they might need to take medication to help them, said Andreae.

“Acute depression, for example. When someone who is very close to you dies, you go into acute depression but you will get over it at some point. Then there’s chronic depression,” said Andreae, when depression is an ongoing challenge to the sufferer.

There could be genetic predisposition to depression as well. But the biggest effect can be due to stress within certain circumstances.

The body’s reaction to stress turns into depression and can most certainly take a person to suicide, said Andreae.
“The problem is there is a lack of carotene in the brain. Carotene has been identified as a major neurotransmitter in modulating depression,” he said.

But because the development of depression is different for everyone, it is difficult to diagnose the problem.
People who are deeply depressed and have suicidal thoughts need “substantial” intervention and ongoing supervision to help them monitor their depression, said Fuller-Thomson.

“Even though people who are depressed don’t appear to want social interactions and appear standoffish, the more supportive you can be with someone going through a rough patch and the more consistent you are with it, the better off they are likely to become,” Fuller-Thomson said.

It all starts with awareness and education, Andreae said.

“There has to be more open talks about it, about symptoms and signs and what to look for,” he said.
“Also the fact that there are people there to help, whether it be a talk-line or clinic. Suicide is something people feel and they need to know that there is support out there. We need to break down the walls of stigma,” said Andreae.

The easier it is for students to build a sense of community, stay healthy and thrive academically, the easier it will be for them to mitigate depression, said Meg Houghton, director of Student Access, Wellness and Development at Humber College.

“It’s important for students to know that they do not need to battle through difficulty alone,” said Houghton. “We also facilitate free, confidential counselling support for students through the counselling centre as our primary means of assisting students who might be experiencing depression.”
The minimum schools should do is let students know there is someone they can turn to, Fuller-Thomson said.

“They actually say whether that’s a coach, a teacher or a guidance counsellor, a person who is clearly overwhelmed will need to feel that there is a listening ear who can reach out and help them,” she said.

“That’s important. That message needs to be spread,” said Fuller-Thomson.

The campaign that Humber’s Student Success and Engagement launched this fall is intended to promote help-seeking behaviour among students and to get them connected to necessary supports and services, said Houghton.

Once people aren’t afraid to speak about suicide is when serious positive changes start, said Andreae.