Science & Research

Rewriting the rules

Research enhances suicide prevention efforts

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

Dr. Jitender Sareen's research has helped save lives that might otherwise have been lost to suicide.

His research has led to enhanced community prevention programs, the creation of a new category for suicidal behaviour and new guidelines for how suicides are covered in the media.

A professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine, Sareen launched a study into suicide among residents of Swampy Cree First Nation in 2007.

At the time, suicide among residents of the northern Manitoba community was five times higher than that of the general Canadian population. Through his research, he discovered that issues such as substance abuse, depression and anomie - a feeling of being disconnected from the community - all contributed to suicidal behaviour, especially among young people.

As a result, community-based and familybased interventions were developed in partnership with the community.

So far, the results have been positive. "We've had excellent partners in the community. Programs are aiming to reduce the risk of substance use and depression in youth, and to connect people who feel disconnected with their community," says Sareen.

Through his work, Sareen has been able to better understand the factors contributing to suicidal behaviour. He says about 90 per cent of people attempting suicide have a mental disorder, but the rest do not. His research shows that other factors, such as panic attacks and financial stress, can contribute to suicidal behaviour.

Based in part on his work, the American Psychiatric Association recently introduced a separate condition called Suicide Behaviour Disorder-DSM-5. "The new category will increase awareness in clinicians to carefully assess for suicide risk," he says.

As well, after considering Sareen's research, the Canadian Psychiatric Association recently introduced media guidelines for the reporting of suicides in order to minimize the contagion effect - people who follow through on suicidal thoughts after seeing the suicide of a celebrity or other person reported in a sensational manner in the media.

"They are raising awareness of how important it is not to report suicide in a sensational manner."

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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