Suicide-Related Research in Canada: A descriptive overview

Please note that this document was published by Health Canada prior to the announcement of the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada on September 24, 2004. Any reference to Health Canada should be assumed to be to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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A background paper prepared for the
Workshop on Suicide-Related Research
(Montréal: February, 2003)
Jennifer White, M.A., Ed.D.

Provided by:

Center for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia

Acknowledgements

Sincere thanks to the following researchers who took the time to review drafts of this document:

  • Dr. Roger Bland
  • Ms. Gina Girard
  • Dr. Michael Kral
  • Dr. Antoon Leenaars
  • Dr. Alain Lesage
  • Dr. Paul Links
  • Mr. Tom Lips
  • Dr. Catalina Lopez de Lara
  • Ms. Allison Malcolm
  • Dr. Brian Mishara
  • Dr. Barbara Paulson
  • Dr. Isaac Sakinofsky
  • Dr. Monique Séguin
  • Ms. Bronwyn Shoush
  • Dr. Michel Tousignant
  • Dr. Gustavo Turecki
  • Ms. Gayle Vincent
  • Mr. Gregory Zed

Their comprehensive commentary, experience and insights were invaluable in the preparation of this paper.

This paper was originally developed and presented as a background information piece for the Workshop on Suicide-Related Research, held February 7 - 8, 2003 in Montréal, Québec. It was adapted from an original paper prepared by Jennifer White, EdD, for the Mental Health Promotion Unit of Health Canada. Based on feedback provided by workshop participants, this document was further reviewed and revised by the Canadian research community.

Final revisions and updating of this document were coordinated by the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Calgary, with support from the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia in Montréal.

A bibliography of Canadian suicide research references has been appended to this document. Further, an updated bibliography, developed by the Centre for Suicide Prevention and the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia, has been developed for Health Canada, and appears as a separate document. Together, the two bibliographies provide a gateway to research on suicide in Canada published during the period 1985 through 2003.

The views in this paper do not necessarily reflect official policy of the workshop co-hosts: the Mental Health Promotion Unit of Health Canada or the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The purpose of this paper was to review and describe the range of suicide-related research currently being undertaken in Canada. It was originally prepared as a background document for the Workshop on Suicide-Related Research held in Montréal in February, 2003. This workshop was organized to enable researchers, suicide prevention experts, and other key interest groups and organizational representatives to discuss the creation of a national suicide prevention research agenda. This national agenda will contribute to the development of a clear and empirically sound evidence base as a foundation for the everyday practice of suicide prevention, including policy development, program planning, education, community development, and clinical interventions.

Many provinces and communities across Canada are actively involved in advancing the suicide prevention agenda, typically through some combination of education, skill development, advocacy, crisis response, prevention programs, bereavement support, and clinical services. In addition, many individual researchers and research teams are contributing to the existing knowledge base in suicide prevention in important ways.

However, apart from the efforts of the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention (CASP), which exists to advocate for the prevention of suicide at the national level, there is currently no coordinated, national effort in place to link various local and provincial work, nor is there any formal national mechanism to enable researchers in this area to communicate effectively with front-line practitioners, policy-makers, medical staff, or community leaders. At the same time, recognition has been growing over the past few decades among many industrialized countries that the prevention of suicide and suicidal behaviour, and the minimization of suffering experienced by those who are bereaved by suicide, is an important national endeavour (Ramsay and Tanney, 1996).

Parameters

The objectives of this paper are:

  • to provide a descriptive overview of the range of suicide-related research currently being undertaken in Canada
  • to set the stage for further dialogue regarding the development of a national research agenda.

Questions addressed in this paper include: What is the overall scope of suicide-related research being done in Canada? Who is conducting it? From which locations are these research endeavours being pursued? What are the potential links that exist across research projects? What are the implications of this work for policy and practice?

For the purposes of this paper, the review of "suicide-related research" refers to systematic and scholarly inquiries that pertain to suicide and suicidal behaviours, across academic disciplines and spanning a range of research traditions, with two specific exceptions:

  • First, studies examining euthanasia and assisted suicide are not included, even though it is recognized that many significant contributions to this particular literature have been made by Canadian researchers (Mishara, 1999).
  • Second, studies that explicitly address self-mutilatory behaviours are excluded, with the exception of those studies that examine self-mutilation as a risk factor for suicide.

While important strides in Canadian suicide research have continued beyond 2003, this document reflects efforts from 1985-2003. Current research efforts or those that have been published after 2003 are not captured in the current document.

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