Today, September the 10th 2018, is World Suicide Prevention Day, a time for us to unite globally, and in the CREST.BD community, to focus on suicide prevention. Suicide rates in people with bipolar disorder are disturbingly high. It’s estimated that 6-10% of people with bipolar disorder will die by suicide (Nordentoft et al., 2011), a rate 20 to 30 times greater than in the general population (Plans et al., 2018). The risk from suicide to people with bipolar disorder and other mental health challenges cannot be downplayed. But, there is hope. Credible online international resources, tools and support groups are available. What is needed is a way for people to have them at their fingertips, especially during times of mental health crisis.
World Suicide Prevention Day is the appropriate day for me to acknowledge the contributions towards suicide prevention made by one member of our CREST.BD family, Sandra Dawson.
Sandra has been an active peer researcher with CREST.BD since 2016 and a member of our Community Advisory Group. She has also been highly involved in the work of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, sitting on their Advisory Council since 2013. In 2017, she began an acclaimed knowledge translation project in collaboration with the MHCC ‘Supporting the Promotion of Activated Research and Knowledge (SPARK) Training Program’ designed to advance research and knowledge translation into the ‘digital divide’ (barriers to using the internet) and to improve e-mental health literacy in Canadians facing mental health challenges. A skilled and prolific writer, she is a frequent contributor to PsychCentral.
Most significantly, Sandra created the Unsuicide directory of online and mobile crisis supports, as well as a popular corresponding Twitter feed (@Unsuicide) with close to 25,000 followers. Her Unsuicide online supports are authentically grounded in her lived experience of bipolar disorder, but also unfailingly focused on helping people, regardless of their geography, to access credible and safe online and mobile support tools. In 2016, she was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada in acknowledgement of the impact of her work as an advocate for people facing mental health challenges and in suicide prevention.
It’s with a heavy heart that I acknowledge today that Sandra is coming to the end of her life. Her life will not be taken by suicide. It will be taken by cancer. The legacy of her work will, however, continue. Sandra’s Unsuicide Online Suicide Help has moved to a new website and will be maintained with the support of John Grohol of PsychCentral. We are currently exploring ways to help move her MHCC SPARK project forward in potential collaboration with the BC SUPPORT Unit and CREST.BD.
On a more personal note, Sandra also leaves a profound legacy with me as a friend and colleague. Sandra, you’ve modelled for me an unparalleled and unflinching advocacy for people who are marginalized and facing barriers to engagement with research and healthcare. Witnessing how you have faced your journey with grace at this point of your life has been a humbling experience which leaves me with deep respect for you. I promise to keep these lessons with me, and to join the many people in the international suicide prevention community who will maintain your profound legacy.
Sandra’s Unsuicide Online Suicide Help page: unsuicide.org
World Suicide Prevention Day is supported by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), visit iasp.info/wspd2018 for more information and to access resources and tools.
Nordentoft M, Mortensen PB, and Pedersen C. Absolute risk of suicide after first hospital contact in mental disorder. Arch Gen Psychiat, 2011. 68(10): 1058-64.
Plans L, Barrot C, Nieto E, Rios J, Schulze TG, Papiol S, Mitjans M, Vieta E, Benabarre A. Association between completed suicide and bipolar disorder: A systematic review of the literature. J Affect Disord. 2018. 242:111-122.