Perhaps it's Not "Just a Phase"...

When news broke out that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had taken his own life just three days after designer Kate Spade had done the same, conversation around suicide, alcohol abuse, and mental health began to trend globally. It is sad that such concerns emerge mostly when there are high-profiles tragedies. Be that as it may, when looking at the general population, a staggering 4.000 people die by suicide each year in Canada – that’s 11 people per day.  In fact, for every suicide related death, there are 20-25 attempts.

Mental health problems often overlap with addiction, as a coping mechanism for many individuals. Together, they make for a high suicide risk factor. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, more than 90% of the suicides that occurred were by individuals with a mental or addiction disorder.

In fact, 4 million Canadians are living with either a mood or anxiety disorder.  What raises greater concern,  is that only half of those who experienced a major depressive episode received adequate care. Depression, being one of the most prevalent disorders, is not a binary phenomenon. It lies on a spectrum of severity and is displayed through various symptoms. Depression is marked by extended periods of low mood. Some of the more subtle signs of depression are changes in sleep patterns, loss of appetite, and loss on interest in hobbies or social engagement. When mixed with alcohol consumption, the risk for clinical depression and suicide increase exponentially. Studies have shown that people who use alcohol to cope are six times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

To break this down further, men are two times more likely to binge drink than women and are also more likely to experience alcohol dependence. Despite the fact that suicide rates amongst women have been rising recently, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. Problem drinking increases the feelings of lack of control, hopelessness, guilt and social detachment that come with depression.

There is a combination of strategies that we can employ to help break the cycle of problem drinking and depression. Medication can be used to address the reward system in the brain that reinforces alcohol consumption. When combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy individuals can learn better coping skills that improve overall health and wellbeing.  Working with a collaborative care team, individuals experiencing co-occurring disorders can get comprehensive medical and therapeutic treatment that offers the best results for mental health.

There is a growing number of other resources that can help as well, that help facilitate things as simple as being kinder to yourself or talking to a professional. A list of tools that can aid on the path towards healing is provided below. If you know anyone who is thinking about suicide, please reach out to one of the crisis hotlines below. If you’re looking into ways to deal with problem drinking, a great way to start is by talking to a physician specialized in alcohol addiction.

Suicide Hotlines:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service:

  • toll-free 1-833-456-4566Text: 45645
  • Anywhere in BC: 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
  • Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789

Kids Help Phone

  • Call a counsellor: 1-800-668-6868


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • 1 800 273 8255
  • Deaf & Hard of Hearing Options can be reached at 1-800-799-4889

Crisis Text Line

  • Text HOME to 741-741

The Trevor Project – LGBTQ Youth

  • Text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200

Tools for Depression and Suicide Prevention:

[Editor’s Note: Remember to always take care of yourself, if you are experiencing a medical emergency, or feel you are in a situation that is unsafe or unhealthy, please seek professional assistance.]

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Lindsay Killam is the Clinical Program Director at Alavida. She’s a registered social worker with a Master’s in Social Work from the University of British Columbia. She has specialized in the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders for over a decade. She has also been a leader in program development in non-profit and public health services.