*Trigger warning, this blog post discusses mental health and death by suicide and may be hard for some people to read. Also I want to be so abundantly clear that absolutely no one is to blame for anybody’s death by suicide and that no matter what, if someone in your life has died in this very unfortunate and devastating way, it is in no way your fault or responsibility. This is in no way a message of blame, but a message of what I believe we can do as a society to create positive change. I truly hope that this post doesn’t sound too harsh or offend anyone, I do honor that we are all just doing the best we can, but truly, ignorance is only bliss for the ignorant and I do believe that education helps create understanding and change.*
We are in the energy of a full blue super moon, and I spent the weekend in and out of panic attacks for the first time in ages, and I just spent the morning on the phone with a friend and their psych nurse and their family, and I keep learning about children under 10 making suicide plans, and its #BellLetsTalk day.
Wow. Deep Breathe.
I also cannot believe how many suicides I’ve heard of recently (in case you don’t know, they don’t report suicides in the news for fear of triggering other people to follow the same path so there are a lot more that we don’t hear about). According to statistics Canada “suicide is a major cause of premature and preventable death. It is estimated, that in 2009 alone, there were about 100,000 years of potential life lost to Canadians under the age of 75 as a result of suicides.” in 2014 alone there were 4,254 deaths by suicide in Canada and according to World Health Organization, “Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.” Let me repeat that. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Eight-hundred thousand people per year.
How have we allowed this to happen?!
Let me be clear. I mean ‘we’ as a society and as a species. Not as individuals. No one is responsible for another person’s actions. No one can single handedly cause someone to or not to die by suicide. Absolutely no individual person is to blame for another person’s death in this way. But as a society, as a species, we need to come together and heal these deeply entrenched wounds that are being passed through generations and come together as a team of love.
Aren’t we all just doing the best we can with what we’ve been dealt? So why can’t we give each other some slack? Offer a helping hand when we can. Offer some love and support to our neighbors or coworkers or friends. A lot of people are surprised when someone they know dies this way. Maybe there were no warning signs. Maybe the person kept to themselves. Maybe the people surrounding them weren’t educated on mental health. Maybe it was a sudden switch or maybe it was a long time coming. There are so many variables that we could never account for them all and the people grieving the loss of their loved ones could spend a lifetime trying to decipher what went wrong. The truth is we never really know what is going on in someone else’s head and the only person who can truly save them is themselves.
This being said, I do believe that as a society there are some things that we can do to improve the continuously rising, devastating statistics.
Get your head out of the sand. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association each year “1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.” How many people do you have in your immediate family? Chances are at least 3-5. Now add in how many coworkers you come in direct contact with every day. Now add in your close friends. Now your extended family. Now your extended friend group. Now divide that number by 5. You are not immune to this. You can choose to keep your head in the sand and pretend that no one around you could possibly be suffering with anything that you aren’t aware of but I can almost for certain say that that is not true. I understand that facing these numbers and facts is scary. The reality is dark and ugly and no one knows exactly how to navigate it and we are going to make mistakes. That’s okay. But you have a choice whether to keep your head in the sand or to face the truth that everyone struggles sometimes and that that’s okay.
Educate yourself. The average person is not immediately comfortable with something that they know nothing about. That’s normal. If you feel scared of mental health and mental illness that’s okay. The unknown can be scary. The first time I rode a bike I was scared. Before I learned what letters were I couldn’t learn to read. There was a time in every single one of our lives when we did not know how to read, write, speak, swim, ride a bike, do math, cook, drive, etc. If you are a hairstylist like I am, before you learned to cut or colour or style hair you had to learn what hair is, what it’s made of, what chemical processes have to happen to lighten or darken hair, how to hold your scissors and comb and blowdryer, what products are for what, what angles to hold the hair at to achieve what results. If you are a carpenter you had to learn what tools did what, what different types of wood were good for, what angles to use, whether to use a nail or a screw. Accountants had to learn basic math then spreadsheets then how to balance books. Nothing that we know now was learned over night. At one time it was all intimidating and new. It’s okay to be intimidated by what you don’t know, but you have the choice to not stay stuck there. In my opinion every single person who educates themselves on mental health is making a difference in our world simply by getting educated. I am not saying you need to go back to school but do a google search, visit some resourceful websites such as CMHA, The Mighty, or Kelty Mental Health to name a few. Don’t be afraid to ask honest, respectful questions. Go to your local mental health centers, counseling offices, doctors office or hospital and ask for resources or book recommendations. Learn what the warning signs are and how to talk to people about them. Be aware of resources in your community that you can offer to people in your life that may need them.
Don’t assume that you know how someone else is feeling. Ask the people in your life how they are. Open up dialogue and communication. Let the people in your life know, by telling them and showing them, that you are a safe person to turn to. That you are open to them turning to you if they are struggling. That if there is a time of crisis you will support them.
Know that the hardest thing for me (and a lot of people) to say in a time of crisis, is “I’m not okay”. I will do almost anything not to have to say those words. Some of the greatest relief and support has come to me when someone else has approached me and said, “I know you’re not okay, and I am here. I would like to help, what can I do?” In my experience a lot of people don’t want to open up because they don’t want to burden other people with their feelings. When I am not okay, the thought of having to call someone and say that I am not okay can be absolutely paralyzing. I have one girlfriend who always finds out after the fact when I hadn’t been okay and every single time she says to me, “Denise! Why didn’t you call me? Please call me next time, I promise I want to be there for you, I want to support you, please call me.” Well it took a year of her telling me this after the fact for me to actually call her this past weekend when I was having a panic attack. I am well versed in, and extremely comfortable with, mental health and it still can be absolutely paralyzing for me to ask for help in the moment of crisis. So imagine how hard it would be for someone who doesn’t necessarily understand whats happening to them, or understand their own mental health, to reach out and ask for help.
If someone does reach out to you for help, show up for them. There are lots of times in our lives when we need to be selfish, in my opinion, this isn’t one of them. Yes you need to have healthy boundaries and its up to the individual to do the work and no I don’t expect you to give all of yourself to someone over and over again who repeatedly is in crisis but refuses to do the work for themselves. But believe it or not there are people who you could call during a crisis moment who would just say that they don’t know how to help and leave you to deal with it yourself. I’ve had this happen and luckily for me I had coping skills and other people to call. Not everyone does. If you don’t know how to help the person, that’s okay, but don’t just hang up the phone. Ask them how you can help! Talk to the person, find out who else might be a support system for them that can help in that moment. There are crisis hotlines you can call or find numbers for your friend to call. There are hospitals in every city that you can take the person to if you really don’t know what to do or if they are in danger of hurting themselves. If its a real emergency you can call 911. But maybe they just need someone to come and sit with them. Or even to sit on the phone with them if you can’t be there in person. This past weekend my girlfriend showed up for me and she just sat with me. She listened without judgement to whatever I felt the need to talk about. She made me eat and drink water, she got my in-the-moment-anxiety meds for me from my purse and had me take them. She sat with me and waited for me to calm down and eventually (with the help of medication) fall asleep. She called me the next day to check in and make sure I was doing okay. Guys, that is not rocket science. And it made such a significant difference for me in that moment. How hard is it to sit on the phone with someone or to go to their house if they live nearby and just sit with them? It’s not. And like I said, if you for whatever reason cannot sit with them or sit on the phone with them, you have options. Easy options. Google the crisis hotline number for your area. Ask them who a different friend or family member may be that could support them while you can’t, and call that person for them. And if its a real immediate crisis, call 911. But my God whatever you do do not tell them you don’t know how to help and hang up. I don’t care how hard it is for you, in that moment it is a lot fucking harder for the person calling you and asking for help. Man up.
Be kind, to yourself and others. This world can be a harsh place. We are all going to struggle sometimes and we are all going to make mistakes. Just do your best and assume that everyone else is doing their best as well. We truly never know what another person is battling behind closed doors and I have found that coming from a place of compassion and love towards all other people whenever I can, truly makes such a huge difference. If we all chose to come from a place of compassion and love at all times there would be significantly less problems in the world. And it is a choice.
If there is one thing I know to be true it is that we only act out of love or fear. Don’t be part of the problem. Choose love.
Together we can each make small, manageable changes in ourselves that in turn facilitates such a huge amount of growth and healing in our world. These statistics do not have to continue rising. We do not have to do as those before us have done or as those beside us are doing. None of us are helpless or innocent in this situation. We each have a choice to make for ourselves. We can choose love. And we can create change for future generations to come.
So what are you going to do?