Two years before I entered high school, I was the victim of a violent rape that took place a mere few kilometres from the football locker room I was now standing in. From the moment of that assault, I chose to disappear, fractured into different people -- the person I was afraid to let you see, the person I wanted you to see, and the young man who struggled with that internal turmoil every day for the next 30 years. I've heard that living as a survivor of rape is like living with a secret tumor. It metastasizes in the dark hollows of shame, and it continues to destabilize and corrupt every bond and every relationship in a survivor's life.
He told me he was fine. He wasn't. Wade's suicide represents a failure of some kind to me. I'm not sure what. I just know that we were friends -- not best friends, but special friends. Special, because we were bonded by the knowledge of each other's illness. Bonded the way undercover cops might be. Why didn't he reach out to me? Had I not instilled in him enough confidence that I "got it?" I wrote about my guilt shortly after his death. In an article for TSN.ca I referred to my guilt as "blood on my hands."
The majority of people refer to the act of somebody taking their own life as "committing suicide." We tend to most often use the word "commit" when it comes to the act of carrying out a crime. The act of suicide was once a crime but its now widely known that suicide is most often the result of mental illness.
Human beings are not good at predicting how they will react in circumstances that have yet to unfold. Those of us working in healthcare understand that life-altering illness, trauma or anticipation of death can sometimes sap the will to live. In those instances, healthcare providers are called upon to commit time; time to manage distress, provide unwavering support and to assuage fear that patients might be abandoned to their hopelessness and despair. That is the essence of how medicine has traditionally responded to suffering. Stopping time by way of arranging the patient's death has never been part of that response.
The plan was to drive off the neighbourhood bridge. It had one of those flimsy corrugated steel side rails at the bottom of a steep hill and curve. I always felt those railings were only a token effort to protect against plans such as this. I had spent the morning running errands and my two-year-old was fast asleep in her car seat in the back. I had installed that seat with the help of a police officer and I knew it was secure and designed to protect on impact. I could see her in my rearview mirror and had a moment of doubt thinking of what I would miss out on.
I am genuinely worried about the mental health of police officers across Canada (and around the world for that matter). It absolutely appalls me that there are officers across the country taking their own lives -- some with their service-issued gun. Police chiefs across the country need to get really creative to ensure another member of their forces do not take their own lives. One way we can help to facilitate this much-needed change is by talking. We need to take the sting out of talking about mental illness. None of us would be ashamed to admit we have a physical illness, so why are we so afraid to talk about our mental illnesses?
I often use cancer as an example when making a point about the lack of support when speaking of mental illness because the very fact that cancer campaigns are many, funding is frequent, and nobody denies its existence nor attributes stigma to the disease is the direct antithesis of that ascribed to any mental illness.
Bell Let's Talk Day inspired active online engagement, attracted celebrity endorsements and the attention of media, all the while raising vital charitable dollars. But a one-day social media event is not enough to significantly move the needle away from ignorance, fear and silence. After all, what happens the next day, and the day after that? Social change requires more than a social media plan. It requires a long-term sustainable strategy. Because in our content-rich, highly distracted world, passion is sometimes overrun by profit, causes are sidestepped by things like limited overhead and the desire to stay current fuels an unyielding need to move onto the next big thing.
I have advocated extensively for mental illness to be treated and looked at the same as physical illnesses. That's why if we're going to accept physician assisted-suicide as an appropriate remedy for people suffering from an irremediable physical illness then we must accept this to be an appropriate remedy for people living with mental illness.
Health is health. One disease does not trump another. But support goes a long way in raising spirits and causing one to feel less alone; less isolated. Depression is a state which has for its purpose to gnaw away at your mind bit by bit, until you have given up completely. And when that happens, the outcome is the same for someone battling from depression as someone fighting cancer.
In recent years, some parents might have found themselves wondering: "What is the link between bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide?" "Is bullying worse than when I was a kid?" "What can I do to keep my kid safe?" For many parents, it's easy to slide into worry-mode. But it's important for parents to be mindful of how they are reacting to stories they are hearing in the media or within the community.
In the last few years, two high profile youth suicides in the Ottawa region garnered tremendous media attention and, as a new study suggests, resulted in increased emergency room visits by youth for mental health distress. But what at first sounds like an alarming link may serve as an important positive lesson.
This past week, the Supreme Court of Canada has been hearing an appeal by the BC Civil Liberties Association that could grant terminally ill Canadians the right to assisted suicide. The Court faces a daunting task. Palliative care cannot eliminate every facet of end-of life suffering. Preserving dignity for patients at the end of life requires a steadfast commitment to non-abandonment, meticulous management of suffering and a tone of care marked by kindness. In response to this dignity conserving approach, the former head of the Hemlock Society conceded that "if most individuals with a terminal illness were treated this way, the incentive to end their lives would be greatly reduced."