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Depression and Other Major Risk Factors

A recent study in New Brunswick found that the main factors leading to male suicide include; deepening depression, increased drinking, marriage and relationship problems, problem gambling, declining physical health and loss of freedom, including trouble with the law.

  1. DepressionDepression is a medical disorder, like heart disease or diabetes. It affects a person’s physical health, work, relationships, behaviours and moods.

    The symptoms of depression include:

    • Changes in sleep
    • Low energy
    • Indecisiveness
    • Changes in eating habits (weight change)
    • Lack of interest in activities, in sex
    • Loss of focus
    • Thoughts of death or of suicide
    • Low self esteem
    • Slowed or agitated behaviour

    For men, anger and irritability, violence, abuse, excessive drinking or promiscuity may mask the symptoms of depression. Physical symptoms such as migraines, back pain and stomach trouble may also be rooted in depression.

    Bipolar disorder is another type of depression that includes extreme mood swings, from periods of depression, to times when they are overly optimistic, energetic, confident, impulsive, and sometimes reckless.

    Depression and bipolar disorders are highly treatable- often the toughest part of the illness is reaching out for help. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t always know when it’s sick. That’s why we need friends and family for support in getting help and finding the right treatment. Learning to recognize the signs and triggers allows people to work with their doctors, other health professionals, and family and friends to prevent recurrences from being as severe. Read more about depression in this brochure, or visit the self-screening tool at

    Other mental health conditions like anxiety, schizophrenia and addiction can also increase the risk for suicide. Getting diagnosed and treated for mental health concerns can be an important step towards regaining control and reducing one’s risk of suicide.

    If you’re concerned about your mental health, please talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of PEI’s Walk-In Clinics.

  2. Substance AbuseAbusing alcohol and other drugs can put someone at a higher risk of suicide. Addiction can be a pathway to social decline, marriage break up, job loss and social isolation. It can lead to lower self-esteem and make us more vulnerable to depression. Addiction can also change the way our brain works. We also know that alcohol and other drugs can lower our inhibitions and weaken our ability to stay safe. Whatever is the case, mixing booze and drugs with suicidal thoughts is downright dangerous.
  3. Relationship ProblemsFeelings of loss and loneliness are often associated with a relationship breakup. They are also closely linked with suicide. People who are divorced have a higher suicide rate than those who are married. Men seem to be particularly vulnerable after separation or divorce, especially when there are children involved. Some think it’s because women are more likely to feel needed after divorce, often because they are the primary custodial caregivers for the children. Men can sometimes feel cut off from their children and from their role as father and provider. The loss of a relationship can be a very isolating and desperate time for men. Support is critical.
  4. GamblingProblem gambling is linked to many social problems such as bankruptcy, domestic abuse, assault, fraud, theft and substance abuse –all of which can be contributing factors in suicidal behaviour. It has been estimated that gambling is a factor in 200 suicide deaths every year (Canada Safety Council). In Nova Scotia, problem gambling is reported as a contributing factor in 6.3% of suicides. However, because of the secrecy associated with gambling behavior, it is speculated that the numbers are much higher than reported.

    Opportunities for licensed gambling have recently increased on the Island. Internet gambling has also contributed to the gambling culture. While some facilities employ responsible gaming representatives on site, feelings of shame and guilt may prevent those at risk of suicide from reaching out for help. There are times in everyone’s life when we need to reach out for help and when gambling becomes a problem, it’s time to get help.

  5. Loss of FreedomAny type of loss can be upsetting and can make an existing depression worse. It could be the loss of someone or something that is important to us, loss of identity, loss of confidence, or perhaps loss of freedom due to illness or injury. These kinds of losses can create vulnerability and risk in an otherwise strong person.

    Loss of freedom due to incarceration separates an individual from responsibilities and privileges, from loved ones and community, and essentially, from his life. As a result, this may increase his risk of self-harm and suicide. There may also be a sense of shame and grief related to the commission of a crime, which can add to the individual’s sense of loss, extending beyond any period of incarceration- potentially for his lifetime.

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