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Talking About Suicide

As September marked National Suicide Prevention Month, it is important to raise awareness about suicide by helping educate others and eliminate current misconceptions.
A cropped shot of a woman holding a loved one's hand in support
PeopleImages via Getty Images
A cropped shot of a woman holding a loved one's hand in support

While the world is gradually coming to terms with the importance of mental health, there still remains a grave misunderstanding around suicide. The idea of openly discussing suicide and suicidal ideation comes with an even greater burden and stigma compared to that which currently surrounds mental illness. For an individual who has never experienced suicidal thoughts, it may be difficult to understand why an individual may take their own life.

As September marked National Suicide Prevention Month, it is important to raise awareness about suicide by helping educate others and eliminate current misconceptions.

"When I was admitted to the hospital for attempted suicide for the second time I was put in a room to wait for eight hours, and then forced to talk to a nurse who told me to 'man up' and to try going to the gym more often."

To start, it is imperative to understand that suicide is a problem-solving behaviour. In the mind of someone experiencing suicidal ideations, their primary intention is to eliminate the pain they are enduring. The majority of people who are suicidal DO NOT actually want to die, rather they just want the pain to stop.

For many it is the answer to what seems like an unsolvable problem. It is not necessarily triggered by one singular trauma, but often an unfortunate conclusion meant to curb unending and ongoing day-to-day despair. Although they may wish to die, they are simultaneously wishing they could find another solution to their on-going dilemma.

Unfortunately, today it is commonplace to criticize others from behind a computer screen -- a behaviour that was highlighted following the death of actor Robin Williams. Although beloved, many strangers to the actor and comedian labeled him as selfish for leaving his family to pick up the pieces of his death, while constantly claiming he had 'so much going for him.'

Suicide is often labelled as a selfish act highlighting surviving family and friends, and depicting them as "left behind". Our community quietly suggests the individual never thought about those who were dominant figures in their life. This is far from the truth. For many, their loved ones are the reason many keep on living; trying to push away the pain. Yet for some, there comes a time when their depression completely engulfs them, overriding their innate and natural desire to live because the emotional pain is too powerful to endure.

"One of the hardest parts of watching a loved one struggle through depression, anxiety and suicidal episodes has been coming to terms with the fact that her thoughts, feelings, and emotions are different from my own, and are not always in her control. It's impossible to know what it feels like to live that every day."

Mental illness is consuming and it does not discriminate. We must move past the idea that money, fame, and material possessions correlates to personal happiness. Mental illness is a medical illness and is linked to a genetic component. For illustration, my immediate family are some of my best friends. I was brought up in a loving home and provided many opportunities, for which I am incredibly grateful. But that isn't enough to beat the all-consuming battle of depression, a medical disorder and chemical imbalance in my brain.

Regardless of whether you feel the act of suicide is selfish or not, labeling someone as selfish for having suicidal thoughts will never help them recover; nor will it help their family or friends recover from their death.

"The first time I was brave enough to admit to someone that I was suicidal I was scoffed at and told that I was just desperate for attention. I have encountered more stigma from the medical profession than in any other area in my life"

It's unfortunate that when an individual tries to express their suicidal thoughts, they are quickly labeled as crazy, psychotic, or attention-seeking. Yet, once that individual actually takes their own life, they are labeled again as selfish. "They could have sought help" is often heard.

What could be more self-important or imposing than saying someone is selfish because they died by suicide, having never known what they were feeling?

Too often the words "mental illness" are used to punctuate the end of a misunderstood storyline. Too often the conversation begins only after a tragedy occurs. We owe it to those who suffer, as well as to those who wish to support their loved ones, to educate ourselves on how to approach mental illness rather than to naively assume it's absence.

Mental illness should not be the conclusion to someone's story, nor should it be the focus of anyone's life. Rather, it is an opportunity for growth and resilience on a personal and community level.

"When I tell people I am suicidal, they say 'Are you sure?' We need to stop trying to invalidate their thoughts. Accept what they are expressing and help them work through it."

Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. This is an international crisis that needs to be addressed, rather than ignored; approached with empathy rather than insensitivity.

You can help.

Be present in the lives of loved ones who are struggling from depression. Approach the topic head-on. Don't be afraid to check in with them again and again. Validate their pain while providing them with resources to grow and learn from their experience.

"No matter how bright your surroundings are there will always be darkness in your shadow. Everyone's greatest enemy is themselves."

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