We think, perhaps, we could have done something differently -- made a move or said the right words that might have tipped the balance in favour of life. Death is not easy on a regular basis, but it becomes tainted and shame-faced when described as a suicide. It's as if we, the survivors, have somehow failed to do our part.
Like most women in Canada, I feel issues that affect me are generally ignored by politicians, especially on a federal level. There was some buzz on September 21st over the #UpForDebate, which was a panel featuring video clips from political party leaders and a panel of women discussing these clips about the neglected issues women in Canada face. As a woman I should perhaps feel positive and hopeful with this progress, that finally these issues are being addressed at least in some capacity. But as a trans woman I already know that issues affecting my unique needs and concerns will be ignored.
News that former NHL enforcer Todd Ewen's recent death was ruled a suicide saddened me. There is no doubt in my mind that competitive sports exact a physical and mental toll on professional athletes -- deaths are not just the consequences of a violent game and the long-term nefarious effects of injuries incurred on these athlete's bodies and brains, but a reflection of a society that does not allow for its men to be weak.
In Canada, it's not clear to what extent inpatient suicides, or unsuccessful attempts that lead to disability, are considered "never events" by healthcare decision makers, or who is keeping track of them for that matter. The fact is there is a wall of secrecy that surrounds hospital suicide and attempts at self-harm in Canada.
I recently attended a mental health first aid course in order to further educate myself on the various mental illness disorders, the consequences of their severity and their overall prevalence in the population -- My eyes were opened to an entire population of our Canadian people whose rate of suicide was too horrifying to further ignore. As statistics related to aboriginal suicides were listed, I realized that this war being waged against the stigma of mental illness is but one of the many battles that will need to be addressed honestly in order to understand the magnitude of the affliction our mentally ill population is facing. As communities of aboriginals are fighting an invisible disease, society can dismiss the reality of the stigma by citing drugs and alcohol as the weak link in this people's history.
Life is for the living. In the years to come you will wake thinking about your son and not his suicide. In accepting loss, your mind will search for memories of life before depression and suicide became part of your lexicon. There will be much work to do in your son's name and in support of youth suicide prevention.
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.