The death of comedian Robin Williams last month sparked a worldwide discussion about suicide, its underlying causes and how it might be prevented. And, with World Suicide Prevention Day taking place Sept. 10, the subject is certain to generate more debate as people seek to understand this important health issue. Having spent 10 years researching the subject while working as a professor of psychiatry, I believe there are things we can do as a community to tackle this problem. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on what researchers have learned over the years about strategies for preventing suicide.
The moment a celebrity or somebody takes his or her life we, as a society, are all over it. It makes me think if we talked about suicide this much when it wasn't in the news due to something like Williams' death we would be better off. In addition to talking about Williams let's also talk about the thousands of other "normal" people who also died of suicide today.
For the series It's About The Words & Conversations, BJ Thomas talks about that special night he heard Jackie Wilson sing "To Be Loved" and how thankful he is to have been exposed to those lyrics. They have stayed with and supported BJ through the pleasures of launching a career, falling in love, starting a family and battling addiction.
I believe the most crucial thing we need to teach digital natives is how to be alone. Every communication technology -- from papyrus to the printing press to Pinterest -- brought us great gifts; they also led us away from earlier frames of mind. And, in the case of the Internet and smartphones, that may leave us with impoverished interior lives.
In the case of someone like Rob Ford, he may have very little control over his cravings for alcohol, and this is where he deserves sympathy. In a culture where everyone has something -- coffee, cigarettes, marijuana, shopping, alcohol, need for approval, etc. -- it shouldn't be too hard for us to sympathize with someone dealing with a dependence problem. However, as a man who has good financial resources and who is capable of accomplishing significant person goals, he has considerable, personal influence over the treatment of this problem.
Only by calling food addiction by its proper name can we begin to speak frankly about how to help one another recover. Until then, food addicts like me will continue to struggle to control that which cannot be controlled. Many will keep trying, and failing, to "eat like a normal person." And many will decide, like I did, that their inability to change is simply a sign of weakness.
Dad's recent bout with sobriety was four or five years ago, and lasted over a year. During that time, he was very good to his family. Dad's wellness certainly did not last long though, and within just over a year, he had determined he 'didn't need help anymore' and was back inside the cycle of pills and alcohol. At this point in my life, my father is still an alcoholic and an addict, and he has survived tremendous odds. He is a good man. Addiction is nasty company.
The pain and terror that seem, for those first few days, like everything -- seen, smelled, tasted, heard, felt -- will be replaced by a longing similar to the kind one feels towards an old paramour. It is even possible that you will be capable of returning to the warm arms of the infrequent cigarette at some distant speck in the future without drowning again in the compulsion.
Ask any avid drug user the difference between 'molly' and 'ecstasy' and they will most likely tell you that 'molly is pure MDMA' and ecstasy was more known to be cut with other substances. In reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. And herein lies the problem. Unless you are an accomplished chemist, 'pure' MDMA is a myth.
Last month, an English celebrity, Peaches Geldof, 25, died of a heroin overdose while at home alone with her 11-month-old baby, Phaedra. I understand that kind of dangerous aloneness: a few years ago, I too was alone with my baby boy as I repeatedly got drunk, tried to stay sober and failed every time.
I claw at the head of the stinky, stained mattress, hanging on to life and wishing for death. The room is dark and claustrophobic. But not dark enough. My eyes refuse to stay closed. They burn and sting. My jaw aches continuously from anxious teeth-grinding. Normally, this far along in withdrawal, I'm through feeling hyper-anxious and hyper-vigilant. This time is different and frightening. I cannot sleep. If I do, I'll suffocate.
The sad irony of most addictions is the addict participates in this behaviour as a means to connect with others, but the result is always a distancing from others. This is what we are witnessing now with Mayor Ford -- as he slips further into his self-destructive addictive behaviour, he pushes even those fiercely loyal to him further away. For me, the pathway to my addiction was set in motion by the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. Only time will tell what demon lies at the heart of Rob Ford's behaviour.
I'm hoping that whoever takes over for the executive director -- and for his other cronies who believe in their own sense of righteous importance and entitlement -- will look again at these programs with clearer eyes and sharper minds. I truly hope we will soon see some positive changes in this long-running DTES agency that has served a lot of needy people.
They also found that patients who started smoking cannabis at age 15 or younger preferred to smoke high-potency "skunk" cannabis rather than lower potency "hash" type cannabis. The earliest onset of psychotic episodes occurred in males who have been smoking high-potency cannabis on a daily basis -- on average, their first psychotic episode occurred six years earlier than for non-users.
Ford apologized for his alleged actions in the crack video scandal on Saturday, but his apology left a lot of people angry and confused. Where others want him to apologize for his shenanigans regarding drugs and drinking, I want him to explain and apologize for his consistent, uncaring attitude towards his office, his city, and the people who live here.
Since it was revealed Ford was allegedly smoking from a crack pipe in a video that the public has yet to see, some have been calling for Ford to take a leave of absence or resign. I get that Ford's conduct is raising eyebrows, but if it goes beyond stupidity then it isn't up to us to diagnose him. At the same time this is something that many people choose to undergo privately -- we need to respect those that make that choice.
Internet use can stimulate the production of dopamine and endorphins. It is capable of providing a high, just like alcohol or cigarettes, and breaking a bad Internet habit can be just as difficult. And no matter what site is being overused, we see similar addictive behaviour patterns leading to real-world dysfunctions in all overuse scenarios.
Homelessness is a national crisis. It affects every Canadian directly. It is time to be bold and courageous, to seek out alternative solutions and radical options. We must take risks and find new ways to work together to bring our nation to a better place where everyone is valued and cared for regardless of circumstance or choice.