A mental health worker in the southeast is urging all of us to watch for the warning signs that someone may be considering taking their life.

Cheryl Dyck says that according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in our country. She notes evidence indicates that one of the most common risk factors for suicide is a diagnosis of a mental health problem or illness.

Dyck acknowledges that we are in a time of year that can be particularly difficult for those dealing with mental health issues. She notes there are many reasons for this including the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter which disrupts our body's internal clock, leading to feelings of depression. Dyck adds with fewer hours of daylight this time of year, our melatonin levels are impacted, which can increase lethargy and symptoms of depression. 

Other factors can include the colder weather which results in less exercise and less socializing. Plus, there is the Christmas season that we just came through, which may have been exhausting and difficult to manage expectations.

Southern Health has released data from the last four Christmas seasons, providing a picture of how admission numbers have changed at the hospital in Steinbach, for patient visits that could be connected to suicide. Here is the data for patients attending Bethesda Regional Health Centre because of depression, suicide, deliberate self-harm, overdose ingestion, substance misuse or intoxication (any patients who die on route or present as deceased on arrival are not captured in this data):

2018 (57)
November - 30
December - 27

2019 (81)
November - 44
December - 37

2020 (50)
November - 27
December - 23

2021 (81)
November - 33
December - 48

2022 (71)
November - 38
December - 33

Though these numbers would not show a steady rise in those showing up at the hospital in Steinbach for suicide-related reasons, Dyck acknowledges that it does feel like we are hearing of more suicides and more suicide attempts these days in the southeast. 

"There has certainly been an increase in mental health concerns among Manitobans and Canadians with the onset of COVID-19," she says. "And so it does seem that more people are willing to come out and talk about mental health more than they used to. So that may also account for the hearing about more suicide and suicide attempts, it's just that more people are willing to talk about it."

And, talking about it, is exactly what Dyck is encouraging. She says you should not be afraid to ask your loved one if they are considering suicide. Dyck notes there is a misconception that if you bring up the topic with a loved one, you will actually be planting the thought in their head.

"That is so not the case," she stresses. "You will not put suicide into their mind and push them into that decision."

Rather, Dyck says asking the question shows that you love them, that you see them and their distress, that you care and are willing to wade into that dark part of life with them. 

Dyck says there are a few warning signs that could indicate that a loved one is considering killing themself. For example, if your loved one is withdrawing from family, friends or activities. If they come across as having no purpose in life or reason for living. You should also watch for substance abuse or increased use of drugs, alcohol or inhalants. Other indicators can be that your loved one has a feeling of being trapped, has no way out of a situation or is hopeless about the future. 

"Sometimes they talk about being a burden to someone or about just being an unbearable pain that they can't find a way to escape out of," adds Dyck. "Or even just noticing increasing anxiety or significant mood changes and that could include anger, sadness, those feelings of helplessness."

Dyck says society has come a long way to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues. She notes this is evident by the fact celebrities are talking about it freely and the number of movies being made on the topic. Dyck adds health practitioners and family doctors continue to get better at asking those difficult questions.

Dyck stresses the importance of letting your loved one know that they are not alone. Then, it is about seeing how you can help them walk through what they are experiencing and connect them with resources. She notes Southern Health offers a walk-in counselling service in Steinbach at 450 Main Street, every Thursday from 9 am to 3 pm. If your loved one is in crisis, she encourages calling the crisis line at 1-888-617-7715, visiting the nearest Emergency Room or calling 911. Those with treaty status have access to First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Manitoba. Another option is to visit www.wellnesstogether.ca

Other provincial crisis resources are:

Manitoba Suicide Line:  1-877-435-7170
Sexual Assault Crisis Line:  1-888-292-7565
Klinic Crisis Line:  1-888-322-3019
Manitoba Farm & Rural Support Services:  1-866-367-3276
Kids Help Phone:  1-800-668-6868