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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Reaching out and saving lives

View of the DVP from Bloor viaduct 
A view behind the Luminous Veil, which was added to the Bloor Viaduct (Toronto) in 2003 to prevent suicide.
By Mike Hajmasy

 

It’s difficult to imagine the severe psychological pain one has to be in to make the fatal decision to end it all. Yet many of us know someone – personally or at least indirectly – who has made this choice. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 800,000 people worldwide die by suicide each year.  Almost 4,000 of these are in Canada.

Suicide is a global mental health problem and each individual case is a tragic loss of life. Since 2003, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) has hosted World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on the 10th of September. This day encourages services, communities, and individuals to take a proactive approach towards those at risk of suicide and those who have lost someone close to suicide, as well.

As a leading mental health and addictions teaching hospital, CAMH consistently works to evolve preventative measures to combat the tragic consequences of suicide. For instance, CAMH was recently involved with an important initiative to clarify what is known and what remains to be known in the area of youth suicide prevention.

Dr. Peter Collins, a Forensic Psychiatrist at CAMH, knows the meaning of reaching out and saving lives on an intimate level.

As an extension of his role at CAMH, Peter is a member of the Toronto Police Service Emergency Task Force’s negotiation team and the forensic psychiatrist with the OPP’s Behavioural Sciences Section. In those roles, he has responded to over 300 emergency calls in person and another 300 (approximately) over the phone, throughout the past 23 years. “My job is to advise the police on how to negotiate with people threatening to commit suicide, but sometimes I end up doing the negotiating myself,” he said.

In terms of suicide prevention, Peter and his colleagues – including Dr. John Arrowood, CAMH Psychologist – are at the front lines, working to remind those in their darkest moments that suicide isn’t the answer.

The IASP website tells us that “the act of showing care and concern to someone who may be vulnerable to suicide can be a game-changer. Asking them whether they are okay, listening to what they have to say in a non-judgmental way, and letting them know you care can all have a significant impact.” Peter knows this well, saying, “It’s important to establish a rapport with the person, address issues they mention, to actively listen, and to provide them with perspective.”

Or, if you’re Peter, it might even mean ordering a pizza.

Dr. Peter Collins
Peter stands on a cat-walk on a bridge over the Don Valley Parkway with a pizza in hand.
“Recently I was called to a bridge in Toronto where a man was threatening to jump. He mentioned he hadn’t slept in 36 hours and hadn’t eaten in a day,” Peter said. “I explained to him that he couldn’t make a decision like this on an empty stomach, so he, I, and an ETF officer had a slice of pizza together.”

Ultimately, the man came off the ledge.

Despite the success he had on this day, Peter explained that suicidal behavior can be cyclical. “Some people never try again, some do. In any case, it’s important that they have access to resources and treatment.”

Join CAMH in honouring World Suicide Prevention Day. For those we’ve lost, for those who are recovering, and for those who may be at risk. Learn more by visiting our World Suicide Prevention Day page. 

 

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