Why do people die by suicide? How can I help someone who is experiencing thoughts and feeling of suicide?
While these questions swirl around at the best of times, they seem to be intensifying as the world responds to COVID-19. What will the psychological impacts of a global pandemic be? Will they lead to more people dying by suicide? How can we prevent this? Of course, there are no hard and fast answers… but there is opportunity for discussion. We do know that people die by suicide because of their own personal journey – there is no single cause of suicide. Typically, it takes a constellation of factors to bring someone to consider suicide. Can we argue that the same is true for preventing it?
For years, experts have studied the factors necessary to prevent suicide. Researchers and clinicians list a variety of ‘protective factors’ – factors that can build resilience or help people endure dark times – that do play a role in preventing suicide. These factors run the gamut from maintaining positive relationships to exercising to engaging in spirituality. What do they all have in common? All protective factors have a basis in hope, belonging, meaning and purpose – universal human needs.
Much social science research examines hope, belonging, meaning and purpose individually and how they may become fulfilled. Many spiritual beliefs point to one or more of them as part of their creed. Some Indigenous ways of knowing, however, are based on all four of them, the way they interact amongst each other, and how they bring balance in life. The First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum, a framework developed by Thunderbird Partnership Foundation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners including Health Canada, describes and explains these four aspects in action, and how aligning them brings wholeness.
We are hearing a lot about mental health promotion these days. Self-care, reaching out to others, maintaining your routine…the checklist seems endless. Do these actions have merit? Do they reduce suicide and promote mental health?
Hope drives optimism about tomorrow; of the future of individuals and of families inseparably (Adapted from “First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum,” Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and Health Canada, 2015).
We can build on the broader view of our lives given to us by our reasons for living, our purpose, with hope for the future. Hope reminds us that “I can shape my future,” because things won’t be this way forever and life is full of opportunity, which also gives us hope in the present moment. Hope also acknowledges that we’re living in a community, we’re not alone in our life’s journey, our lives are interdependent. We are positively affected by one another (Temple, 2018).
Belonging is connectedness – relationships with family, community and nature. It is evident through the love, kindness, and respect we feel from others (Adapted from “First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum,” Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and Health Canada, 2015).
A sense of belonging, a sense of connection and identification with others, can also help shift our perspective when facing hardship. A sense of belonging reminds us that “I am not alone” (Conwell et al, 2011).
Meaning is created by an attitude towards living (Adapted from “First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum,” Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and Health Canada, 2015).
Meaning, like purpose, reminds us that our lives are worth living, no matter what, because life isn’t just about the day-to-day routines we create for ourselves, but instead about something deeper. We can find meaning in our purpose, and that can give us the motivation to thrive regardless of what our circumstances may be. Meaning reminds us, “My life is important because I have a purpose that motivates my actions”(Frankl, 1959; Heisel, Neufeld & Flett, 2016; Costanza, Prelati, & Pompili, 2019).
Purpose creates an understanding that every person is sacred, that the physical body is “home” for the spirit, heart, and mind, all of which are interconnected to the other and work inseparably (Adapted from “First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum,” Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and Health Canada, 2015).
When we have purpose in our lives, we have a reason for living. Reasons for living give us resilience in the face of challenges, because they provide us with a broader view of our lives (Kleiman & Beaver, 2013).
The broader view of our lives provided to us from our reasons for living can give us perspective when dealing with hardship; they remind us that no matter what else is going on, “I matter.”
If you’re struggling with your mental health or having thoughts of suicide, call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310, or online at hopeforwellness.ca to talk to someone.