Three Montreal high school students have been suspended after plans for a suicide pact circulated through the school and collected dozens of signatures.
Earlier this week, private secondary school, Collège d’Anjou sent a letter to parents saying a school staff member found a three-page letter inviting young people to take part in a suicide pact. It was signed by as many as 62 students.
They agreed to kill themselves on Jan. 30.
The three students who created the invitation said it was a joke. They were suspended for the actions but are not facing any criminal charges, according to the Montreal Gazette.
In the letter, the school told parents it’s “taking this very seriously” and investigating the intention behind the letter.
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Suicide pacts ‘rare’
Suicide pacts are very rare, according to Robert Olson with the Centre for Suicide Prevention. Despite this, he said it should still be taken very seriously.
“For those who are at risk, it could be an added reason to carry through with the act,” he said.
Even though the three students said it was a joke, he said it’s still dangerous as high school is a vulnerable time for young adults as they can be “incredibly susceptible.”
Dr. Gail Beck, clinical director of the youth psychiatry program at Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, said there also could have been students who signed that pact who weren’t joking.
“For some, it was probably not a prank,” she said. “If you look at the number of people who signed it … suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young Canadians. So you can’t ignore these numbers.”
Although suicide pacts are rare, they have been of concern among young people, particularly for vulnerable groups.
For example, in April 2016, 13 young people in Attawapiskat, a northern Ontario community, were taken to hospital after fears of a suicide pact. This came after a rash of suicide attempts in the community.
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Talking about suicide in a healthy way
Olson said the students who started the suicide pact letter could have thought it was a “taboo subject and were acting naughty.”
That’s why it’s important to talk openly about suicide in a healthy way, he added.
“It’s a fallacy that talking about suicide will put the idea in their heads,” he said. “You should ask someone directly, ‘are you thinking about suicide?'”
Beck agreed and said parents should talk to their children calmly about the subject, without showing fear or judgment. This can bring relief to people who have these thoughts.
Suicide among young Canadians
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in 15 to 24-year-olds in the country, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). It estimates that 4,000 Canadians die from suicide each year.
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Up to 20 per cent of young Canadians are affected by a mental illness or disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse are most typical for this age group.
The CMHA estimates that about five per cent of young men and 12 per cent of young women between 12 and 19 have experienced severe depression.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.