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Tide turning on suicide stigma in London

It’s one of the last frontiers — the stigma many feel uncomfortable discussing and one that too often ends tragically.

To contradict a once-popular song, suicide isn’t painless. Not by a long shot.

Yet one of the easiest and most effective ways to save someone is talking to them, to ask them questions and really listen to them.

There are no simple answers, but there are simple ways to help.

That’s somewhat the mantra of the London-Middlesex Suicide Prevention Council, the organization that has now enrolled and trained 800 people in its safeTALK course.

Reducing stigma has been a long, grim struggle, said Lynda Cowie, the organization’s project coordinator, but progress is being made.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction. We haven’t won the battle with stigma yet, but I think we’re at a tipping point,” she said. “We’re really starting to open the door to discussions about suicide.”

That’s where it all begins.

The safeTalk session is training that prepares anyone over the age of 15 to identify people with thoughts of suicide and connect them to mental-health resources.

That’s because most people considering suicide as a way out still want help to stay safe. Those who have taken the course know how to support that desire for safety.

“The intent of that is to reach out to anyone, anywhere to recognize warning signs from someone who might be at risk for suicide and to be able to point them in the right direction for where to get help,” chair Bonnie Williams said.

London Police Deputy Chief Brent Shea applauds the program and stresses that mental illness is a disease like any other.

“There are numerous success stories where impacted individuals have had assistance, just as they would with any other illness,” he said. “That’s the key, I think, to move forward in their lives.”

Suicides in London

For the period 2000 to 2010, statistics recorded by London police show:

— There was an average of 34 suicides each year, ranging from 26 to 47 deaths annually.

— 75 per cent of people who committed suicide were men, and the average age was 44.

— 25 per cent of people who committed suicide were women, and the average age was 51.

Suicides in Middlesex County

From 2002 to 2012, statistics recorded by the Office of the Chief Coroner show:

— There was an average of 49.2 suicides each year, ranging between 30 and 54 deaths anually.

— 73 per cent of people who committed suicide were men.

— 67 per cent of those who died were age 50 or under.

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