Society, the Individual and Medicine


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Suicide in Canada

Facts and Figures

Statistics about suicide are difficult to find, and could be inaccurate due to misclassification of suicides (e.g. "accidental firearms discharge") or under-reporting.  The sensitivity of suicide, as with other mental health issues, often contributes to under-reporting.  Because of the variation in the reporting, different sources could report very different values.

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Definitions of Suicide

Nerd's Corner

Definitions of Suicide

The sociologist Emile Durkheim devised this, the classic definition of suicide:

"The term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result."

This definition assumes that one (physician, coroner, etc) can know what people were thinking about their own actions during a moment of crisis, or period of intense distress.  It is nearly impossible to re-create, with certainty, what someone was thinking or intending before they died, thus leading to many of the misclassifications with regards to suicide.  In the case of studies of death by suicide, the assessments can only be done retrospectively by interviewing others - in what has been called a "psychological autopsy".  In attempted suicides, individuals may have poor recollection of the events surrounding their attempt, perhaps because they were intoxicated or otherwise in a confused or agitated state.

Researchers have identified a third classification of suicides; parasuicide, which is defined as self-injurious or risk-taking behaviour that is life-threatening without suicide being the conscious goal.  The WHO has defined parasuicide as:

"An act with nonfatal outcome, in which an individual deliberately initiates a non habitual behaviour that, without intervention by others, will cause self-harm, or ingests a substance in excess of the prescribed or generally recognized therapeutic dosage, and which is aimed at realizing changes which s/he desired via the actual or expected physical consequences."

This definition includes assessments of motivation that are difficult to make.  The term deliberate self-harm is sometimes used as a synonym for parasuicide or suicide attempts and sometimes more inclusively to include this behaviour of repetitive self-injury.  There is controversy about what to include within the group of suicide-related behaviours or parasuicide.  For example, many risk-taking or self-destructive acts may be motivated by the same sorts of hopelessness, suffering, and wish to escape from a painful life that contribute to suicide.  On the other hand, as an example, in many Aboriginal communities certain types of risky behaviour (like driving all-terrain vehicles without helmets) are so common among all youth that they do not distinguish between those who are depressed or suicidal and those who are doing well.  Risk-taking behaviour and suicide may be related, in part, because both are independently influenced by such personality factors as impulsivity.

In some instances, individuals may make a suicide attempt in a way that clearly serves to communicate their distress.  For example, someone may threaten to take an overdose in front of a person and wait for him or her to react.  Such actions are sometimes referred to as suicide "gestures", emphasizing the fact that they serve as dramatic communications aimed at provoking a response from others.

The stories of some people who died by suicide show a clear progression from suicidal ideation (having thoughts about suicide) to attempted suicide to the lethal act ( Jeanneret, 1992).  Accordingly, suicidal behaviour may be viewed on a continuum of severity and links can be sought between levels of life-threatening behaviour.

Adapted from: Suicide among aboriginal people in Canada. 2007, Aboriginal healing foundation.

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Suicide Rates 2003-2007…

Suicide Rates 2003-2007

For a more recent example, the graph below shows the suicide death rates in Canada across all ages from the years 2003 to 2007, statistics taken from Stats Can.  The (blue) center line represents the national suicide rate, which is split into the upper (red) male rate and the lower (female) rate.  The female rate stays relatively constant at 5 per 100,000, whereas the male rate drops from 18.4 per 100,000 to 16.7 per 100,000.



Updated September 10, 2013