world suicide prevention day

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A friend’s posting on facebook reminded me of something I should have remembered. September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. In May 2012, I wrote a requiem post about two people who were suicidal. One went into the woods and blew his head off. None of his friends saw it coming. The other, haunted by mental health problems, attempted a slow and painful suicide by starving himself to death. I don’t know if he died or not – my connection to him was tenuous, but I still remember his “deep blue eyes, showing deep pain and sorrow.

Please learn the signs of suicidal thoughts and actions so you will recognize them if displayed by friends, co-workers/colleagues, students, neighbor(u)rs, family members; help that person get the mental health assistance that they need. If you are contemplating suicide, please call your local suicide hot line. There are people out there who care; no matter how alone you feel, you count, you matter.

paul* and marc*: a requiem, part I

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On the Road excerpt in the center of San Franc...

{disclaimer: names have been changed; and this isn’t about anything I’m contemplating to do myself}

In his early 20′s, wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans hanging loosely off his body, with wheat- colo(u)red hair, a soft-spoken voice, and deep blue eyes, showing deep pain and sorrow, paul* arrived at my parent’s doorstep for a “play date.” His worried mother wanted to get him out of his room where he had retreated, rarely leaving, or interacting with other family members or the world outside. I was “set up” to be the distraction from the dark thoughts that filled his days – the irony of course, being that I was already chronically depressed and probably bipolar 2.

But, forced by both mothers to participate, I suggested going for coffee – a quick and easy to way to get him (and me) out of the house. We sat opposite each other; he spent most of the time staring into his mug, and playing with his donut. When nervous or uncomfortable, I bramble on about everything and anything, hardly coming up for air.

Subconsciously, I realized he was far more depressed even than I was; his despair wasn’t going to vanish over a few crullers and cups of coffee. I wasn’t stuck in my room by choice, but by circumstances. I was lonely, but he was more than that. At 18, I almost understood his bleakness. Having dates or a girlfriend wasn’t going to return the paul his mother wanted back; that paul might be gone forever. Her dreams of his returning to college or looking for work hinged on him believing in himself. He didn’t anymore. I gave him my phone number, and told him to call me if he ever wanted to go for coffee, to a movie or just talk. He never called. I heard through my mother that he was reading books on suicide, and appeared to be starving himself to death. Then I left home, my parents moved, and the contact was broken.

I like to think that paul made it; that whatever had darkened those gorgeous blue eyes was lessened. That he got the help he needed to leave his room and rejoin s0ciety. That he found the belief in himself to finish college, get married and have grandchildren. But, I have this horrible, gut feeling that he is one of the statistics of adult male suicides.

My connection to marc was through mari*, the younger sister of a friend, I had grown closer to over the years. Tall and lanky, marc for some reason reminded me of my current hero at the time, Jack Kerouac. I had been devouring and redevouring On the Road. During an extended visit with mari one spring, I spent a lot of time with marc. He was funny, warm, a great storyteller, wonderful listener, spontaneous, albeit a drinker, and soft drug user. We would be having a silly conversation one minute and a deep philosophical/ethical one the next. He made me laugh til the tears ran and my sides ached. His hello and good-bye hugs enveloped you in genuine warm and fellowship. We said goodbye, and his “come back soon,” and my “I really hope so” were honest. Looking back, even then, I think I sometimes saw the mask go down and a hint of pain, of tragedy, of something that he used drinking and drugs to forget come through.

marc and I didn’t correspond (this is pre-email, smart phones, facebook and social media days!), but in her letters to me, mari she often mentioned marc saying hello, and asking how I was doing. Then came the tear stained letter – somehow marc had gotten a hold a shotgun, gone into the woods, and blown his brains out. Folks found him when he had been missing for several days. His friends were all shocked – no one had seen it coming. Everyone put the blame on his drinking and drug use. But I had a sense it ran much deeper than that.

I write about paul and marc now not because I have plans to follow in their footsteps, but to illustrate how far we have come in terms of mental health issues, and how far we still need to go (part II).

A day program in an outpatient’s setting would have helped paul, I think, deal with his withdrawal, and give him the confidence to rejoin the world. Maybe medication might have given him that extra boost and counseling narrowed down the reason(s) for his rejection of the world and life.

As for marc, maybe there were no signs that he would take his own life. We now know a lot more what to watch for. Something happened to him that caused him great pain, something he used a “painted on” smile, booze, and drugs to cover up. Whether he would seek and/or receive professional mental health help is of course a big if. Had he reached out, he might have found others with similar pain, similar sorrow, similar hopelessness. He might have learned he wasn’t alone in his darkness. Sharing might have saved his life.

And that’s the big IF – would paul and marc have made it in 2010s, not the mid to late 1970s?

 

World Suicide Prevention Day: September 10, 2011

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Following links from the blog purple persuasion:

I am a 30-something working mother living with bipolar disorder. I have been battling with mental distress on and off for 25 years and have been a mental health service user since 1994. This blog represents my personal views and experiences, usually around mental health, occasionally on news events or books.

I learned that:

World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September promotes worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides. On average, almost 3000 people commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives.

And on facebook:

Every year, suicide claims the lives of over 34,000 individuals in the United States

As they say, do the math: that means that on any given day around the world at least 60,000 folks might seriously consider ending their lives. Yearly, almost 1 million people commit suicide while almost 22 million may attempt it.

Nine thousand people live in my mother’s small town; around 950,000 people live in Nova Scotia, almost 35 million people live in Canada. Take those global statistics, overlay them on population figures, and you can see just how devastating suicide is.

And yet, it still is a “taboo” subject; few people want to talk about it, let alone advocate its prevention. In fact, mental illness, in general, still hides in the attic, is shoved into the basement, kept anywhere but on the main floor where it might lose its power in the brightness of daylight, or the spotlight of investigation.

Certain groups are more likely to commit suicide; while this fact isn’t surprising in and of itself, the nature of these groups are telling. First Nations, soldiers (and former soldiers), teens attempt or commit suicide at higher rates than the general population. (Please don’t quote me on this – I haven’t done enough research at this point to provide a proper statistical analysis; think of this as anecdotal information only.) There can be community clusters of suicides, as if one death triggers several more. I often wonder if some drug overdoses aren’t suicide attempts (even if the person hadn’t consciously set out to end their life).

I know that the mindscape can become so bleak, the darkness so thick and overpowering, that the only escape from physical and emotional pain is to end it. Suicide has touched my life in many ways; as I teen, I tried it – not the best effort, and I didn’t end up in the hospital. Friends did. And friends of friends (becoming my friend) took a shotgun into the woods, pills and alcohol and bolted the door. Recently, the adult son of my in-law’s friend committed suicide.

I understand the feelings of hopelessness, of guilt, of uselessness. I know the words that depression whispers: “No one cares.” “No one will notice you’re gone.” “There is no hope, there is no future.” “The pain will never end unless you end yourself.” My adult self has looked at the bottles of prescription medicine laid out on the table, and thought, “There is enough here.” I have envisioned places I might go as part of the ritual of suicide; what I might do; the explanation I might leave behind.

I recognize that abyss, the chasm over which I cling to the edge with toes bent. I know it comes from the darkest of places, a spot so deep inside, the sunlight of laughter, the warmth of love, the comfortableness of a hug never reaches. In his song, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” Bruce Cockburn wrote: “You got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight.” That is my daily routine, to look for cracks in the hard shell of despair, and try and spread that fissure wider, so it can bleed daylight instead of sorrow.

On September 10, think about how mental illness in general and suicide in particular impacts on your life and the lives of friends, relatives, coworkers, acquaintances. I think few folks are left totally untouched by it.

Information on a concert in Ottawa and location and phone numbers for suicide crisis centres across Canada are at these links. Today, at least 9 people in the US will commit suicide. That’s nine times the number of family, friends, cohorts, coworkers, acquaintances; the lives of the living can thus haunted by the dead. One hundred and twenty-five people per hour commit suicide worldwide. Seventy-five people have died in the time it took to write this and read it over several times.