The Current

How promoting social connection could help combat suicide among rural men

Older men living in rural areas need better access to culturally relevant programs to stem the risk of gun-related harm, says the lead author of a new study on firearm-related injuries and deaths in Ontario.

Study found two-thirds of gun-related deaths in Ontario were in men from rural areas

A Parkland Men's Shed gathering in Dauphin, Man., last year. Bill Farley, who founded the local chapter of the organization, says the program gives older men a sense of purpose. (Submitted by Parkland Men's Shed)

Older men living in rural areas need better access to culturally relevant programs to stem the risk of gun-related harm, says the lead author of a new study on firearm-related injuries and deaths in Ontario.

"We have to generate programs that make sense for where you're trying to establish them," said Dr. David Gomez, a trauma and acute care surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

"If we try to generate a program that's going to work in downtown Toronto, it's not going to work in Thunder Bay, [Ont.]," he told The Current's Matt Galloway. "So we need to generate big partnerships with urban, suburban and rural practitioners to be able to first identify and generate interventions that actually make sense to the average rural male."

A study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found more than two-thirds of gun-related deaths in Ontario between 2002 and 2016 were suicides impacting older men in rural areas. According to the study, men aged 45 and older were most at risk.

Gomez has said education on safe firearms storage, "red flag" laws, and giving rural primary care physicians the tools to intervene when they meet someone at-risk of self-harm could reduce gun-related deaths. Further restricting access to guns could also help, although it's important to recognize that "firearms are part of the culture of the day-to-day of a lot of rural Ontario and Indigenous communities," he said.

A study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found two-thirds of gun-related deaths in Ontario between 2002 and 2016 were among men living in rural areas. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

However, some men may just need to find a sense of social connection and become an active part of their community.

Men's Shed is an organization that aims to combat feelings of loneliness and depression and support the well-being of men by getting them involved in group activities like woodworking or cooking.

Bill Farley, an 86-year-old Manitoba resident who started a Men's Shed chapter in Dauphin, says many of the men he met through the program had sold their farms and moved into town, and no longer knew what to do with themselves.

"What I've learned is that men get their sense of worth from their occupation, whatever they're doing," said Farley.

"So the fellows I worked with were there because they saw an opportunity to give back to the community and to feel worthwhile."

Social connection a 'protective factor'

Dr. Allison Crawford, medical director of the Ontario Psychiatric Outreach Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said Farley is doing important work to combat the stigma around mental health.

It could even be a better solution than "sitting in a clinic."

"Social connection is such a protective factor against depression and suicide," Crawford explained.

She said observations like Farley's are important. 

"We don't necessarily get to spend time with people like that in psychiatric practice, and I think [it's] so insightful," she said.

"I would like to see more research that aligns with … getting the perspective of men in that age group and hearing about their lived experience, particularly men who have experienced thoughts of suicide."


Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text) | crisisservicescanada.ca (Chat)

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a crisis centre


If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

Suicidal thoughts.
Substance abuse.
Purposelessness.
Anxiety.
Feeling trapped.
Hopelessness and helplessness.
Withdrawal.
Anger.
Recklessness.
Mood changes.


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Lindsay Rempel, Rachel Levy-McLaughlin and Marc Apollonio.

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