I was suicidal -- and now I'm calling for change.
I was 17 the first time I seriously considered suicide. Standing at the edge of the subway platform, at the station I came to every single day, I wondered just what would happen to me if I took just a few more steps forward and tumbled onto the tracks.
There was a lot happening at the time: I was about to graduate high school and the pressure was on to choose the right university program. I was also dealing with homophobia at school, at home and online. It wasn't the first time I had thought about suicide -- the idea had crossed my mind plenty of times before -- and that's what was scariest.
But, as alone as I felt in that moment, I know I'm not the first to feel it: News of Robin Williams' apparent suicide aside, one in five Canadians lives with a mental illness according to CAMH, with about 430,000 of them youth. And every day, about 11 Canadians die by suicide.
It makes me wonder why more people aren't talking. It shouldn't take a celebrity death to spark a conversation.
The media always seems to glaze over mental health. Journalists have long feared the "Werther effect" --- that covering stories of suicide will lead to copycats. As a result, the stories only crop up when a major corporation like Bell hosts its #LetsTalk campaign, or when someone as iconic as Robin Williams dies. They fade away, the effect of a 24-hour news cycle -- and those of us still suffering are left searching for representation, a voice to keep the dialogue going.
In an attempt to create that ongoing dialogue, my friends and I -- all young journalism majors -- pitched the idea of a youth mental health magazine to a group of industry professionals as part of a class assignment this past winter. While they seemed understanding of the concept, their responses were unsurprising: "You're going to have a hard time finding anyone to fund you," one told us. "The content needs to be happier to sell," another said.
But mental health isn't just about feeling good. As someone who has suffered with generalized anxiety disorder and subsequent depressive episodes, the last thing I want to read is feel-good drivel. What the media needs to focus on is honesty -- like the countless numbers of medications I've tried just not to have a panic attack on a subway car, the days I skipped work to lie in bed and cry (and how I always told my friends, family and employers I was sick), the pounds I shed not being able to eat in my depressive state, the long hours I spent in a therapist's office because I didn't know how to "fix my head."
Relatable, not happy, conversation is what counts.
And so it goes: There are days I still think about suicide. There are days that, even on my anti-depressants, I have panic attacks. I still need to see a counsellor, take medication, use coping strategies. Last night, I couldn't even read reports of Williams' death without mentally transporting myself back to the edge of the subway platform.
But what feels best is reading the stories of others in the same situation as me, those who keep the conversation going. I feel best when I know I'm not alone.
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