We continue to be bombarded with graphically depicted messages that either romanticize suicide in terms of simplistic Romeo and Juliet dreck, or unfairly portray those in the midst of a mental illness crisis as "mad." We start believing falsehoods that keep perpetuating negative stereotypes and stigma.
In Canada, men account for three out of every four suicides -- with seven men dying by suicide every day. And the risk is even greater for gay and bisexual men, who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual men. Which isn't surprising since they also experience higher levels of harassment, discrimination in the workplace and are more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
Each one of us knows a child or a teen who is struggling with either depression, anxiety, an addiction or a behavioural disorder like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Mental illness not only causes high levels of distress in children, but can also interfere in significant and real ways with their lives.
On the night of Tuesday April 28, 2009 our son died by suicide. As the shock lifted we began the agonizing process of trying to comprehend our new reality. Our 23-year old son had lived with a robust disease that had been brewing for years. He was a strong, intelligent young man; however, even he could not see where his path was headed. Mental illness is a formidable foe. Our tragedy is his absence from our ordinary lives. We are now referred to as survivors. What exactly we are surviving is unclear. We are broken in so many places; trying to put the puzzle that was our life back together. Only now, the pieces do not match.
Why didn't you answer our calls that night? We couldn't figure out why you hadn't come home for dinner. When did you last think about your family that terrible night? Did you consider, even for a moment, that our lives would be a living hell after you were gone? Why didn't you tell us that you hated who you had become? You had lost hope. Despite all of the good in your life, I think there was a layer of fear and uncertainty that left you adrift.
Our lives have been irrevocably impacted by the loss of our son; a grief that is almost impossible to put into words. Stigma in part prevented our son from seeking support which would have perhaps led him to understand that his depression was the result of many factors. We cannot change our history but as survivors of suicide loss we can channel our grief into changing lives. We can be part of ending stigma forever and be a force in the evolving suicide prevention conversation. As a country we can move from awareness to action and saving lives. In my son's honour I will continue to advocate for youth suicide prevention so other families' understand what our family could not.
Having worked in suicide prevention, I know that making suicide and suicide ideation taboo plays a part in suicide statistics. Just like Mental Illness has been coming out of the closet in the last few years, suicides can be prevented when it is destigmatized and talked about. We have anti-bullying legislation talk about workplace harassment. But suicide or suicide ideation and mental illness are too often off the table.
Every parent's worst and unimaginable nightmare is losing their child...On the surface many think how could this intelligent, beautiful, popular teenager take her own life. The reality is life can change in a moment and that decision making can never be reversed. What drives me crazy are the parents that look at Madeline's situation as an anomaly and think that this could never happen to my child... It's an irreversible decision that can shatter your family and alter your life forever.
For months now we have been like detectives trying to make sense of the senseless. In the midst of our pain we are sorting out his life. Professionals have told us that we are mourning the loss of two sons -- the Daniel we cherished and the Daniel who lived with depression. He carried his hurt so well we were unable to help him. Our aching hearts do not understand as yet what our thoughtful minds are telling us. Daniel paid the ultimate price for his depression and now we are forced to live in a world without him.
Maddie's last act was one of selflessness and not of selfishness. That is my belief substantiated by the tears that have flowed endlessly since that fateful night. We are not even close to understanding how these angels feel or the pain that they must be enduring. We must start to hold these delicate youths with greater compassion and not with misunderstanding and trepidation.
By and large, we live in a diet-obsessed society, so my health nuttiness went unnoticed. Plus, like most individuals with eating disorders, I was a master at hiding all this dysfunctional behaviour for many years. I was also incredibly successful at outwardly presenting a well put-together front when facing the world. I had been a model student, a star employee, a good friend and doting auntie to my young nephews. Until it all came crashing down on me.
Dealing with the current crisis isn't enough, because this crisis is unending. As the Attawapiskat teen who confronted Bennett pointed out, our First Nations are living in third-world conditions, and that needs to be dealt with first. We need to build livable houses with access to drinkable water. We need to hire permanent local mental health care workers and addiction specialists. We need to get adults jobs, be it developing local resources, producing and selling traditional goods or telecommuting to office jobs. As Bill Yoachim of the Snuneymuxw First Nation on Vancouver Island told CBC when asked about the suicide crisis: "We need to create space, whether through sport or culture or recreation, to make people feel alive."
The biggest complaint I hear from teenagers is that we don't take them seriously. The teens of Attawapiskat have made a list of what they have in their community, their community and social assets if you will. Things like a gym, a Healing Lodge, and a school. They have also made another list: 'What we need.' Notice the list was not titled what we want. Need. These children need a Fitness Centre; it was the first thing on their list. The second was a Track and Field facility. More Sports, a Youth Camp and a clean Swimming Pool. We need to listen now, and give them what they need before it's too late.
The city starts its $35-million makeover of Burrard Bridge this month, so expect traffic chaos. Mostly, though, I feel hoodwinked by the consultation process, which changed nothing except for adding a major element which was not spoken of at all. The city decided, after the consultation, to include suicide prevention barriers after one single health officer spoke to the city to insist they should be done.
Michael Wilson, the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, has called for funding for a program of citizen gatekeepers all over Canada who can spot likely suicides and prevent them. It appears that the MHCC loves to set up programs that make people feel better but that have never been demonstrated to be effective. And sadly, this new one could be just as much of a waste of time and money. Here's why.