Published Canadian literature 1985–2003: Suicide-Related Research in Canada: A Descriptive Overview

A. Published Canadian Literature: 1985 - 2003

This part of the paper describes suicide-related research undertaken in Canada and/or about Canada over the period 1985 to 2003. The literature described crosses a range of disciplines including health, social sciences, and education. This paper provides an update to some earlier commentaries (Tanney, 1995) and related work. For example, Ramsay and Bagley (1985) undertook a similar process almost twenty years ago when they assessed the state of suicide research in Canada. While every effort has been made to include studies published in both official languages, some articles may have been missed.


Database searches of abstracts were conducted using Medline, PsychInfo, Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), Humanities and Social Sciences Index, Sociological Abstracts, and the Centre for Suicide Prevention's Suicide Information and Education Collection (SIEC). Primary search terms included: suicide, research and Canada. Where possible, searches were also conducted using authors' last names, based on a list of researchers known to be studying the phenomenon of suicide in Canada. Because this paper was commissioned by the Mental Health Promotion Unit, a secondary set of search terms was used to generate a list of studies that explicitly reflected a prevention/health promotion focus with relevance for suicide prevention. Terms used were prevention, mental health promotion, determinants of health, and resiliency.

Studies have not been inspected for the quality of their research designs nor have they been judged on the rigour of their methodologies, as this was considered beyond the scope of this particular project. Unlike other "evidence-based reviews," no systematic procedures have been employed to appraise the validity of the claims being advanced and no summary judgments will be offered regarding the overall strength and trustworthiness of the empirical evidence.

Given the volume of published research articles, unpublished doctoral dissertations are not included. As mentioned previously, the following terms were excluded: euthanasia, assisted suicide, and self-mutilation.

At the conclusion of the Workshop on Suicide-Related Research, Canadian suicide researchers were provided an opportunity to review and revise this document to ensure its completeness.

Descriptive Overview

The range and volume of suicide-related research undertaken in (or about) Canada has steadily increased over the past twenty years. Over 250 research articles across a number of disciplines have been published on the topic of suicide during this period, revealing a rich and varied array of research traditions, methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives.

Research Categories

For the purposes of this paper, Canadian research is organized into the following six categories:

  1. Biomedical (including genetic and biological investigations)
  2. Clinical (including studies of clinical populations and therapeutic interventions designed to assist those at risk)
  3. Health services and systems
  4. Health of populations/sociocultural determinants (including studies of specific vulnerable populations as well as investigations that examine the role of the broader social determinants of health)Footnote 1
  5. Health information/epidemiology
  6. Knowledge development and policy research.

The structure of the first four categories is from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), a major funding source for health-related research in Canada. CIHR categorizes health research according to these four "pillars". The fourth and fifth categories are common cross-cutting themes in discussions among researchers as well as in workshops on Canadian research priorities. It is understood that there is considerable overlap between research categories (e.g., health of populations and epidemiology), and that some studies could easily be affiliated with one or more categories. For ease of description and analysis, each published work has been placed in one of these six categories.

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