Let's talk about suicide

This is a revision and updated version of an editorial that first appeared in The Citizen on Sept. 7, 2013.

First, our condolences to the friends and family members who have lost loved ones to suicide. We are truly sorry for your loss. We also hope you might use your experience to help us help others to spare them the same tragedy but we understand if you can't talk about it because it hurts too much.

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Like most people and most businesses, The Citizen and its staff are all too familiar with suicide. One of our colleagues took his own life three days after 9/11. Individually, we've all been affected. Personally, suicide took away an uncle, as well as classmates in Grade 7 and Grade 12.

The worst problem with suicide is that even the act of talking about it, just to discuss ways to prevent it, gets people thinking about killing themselves.

Yet if we don't talk about it, we fail those who are not only thinking about it but planning it. We have to let them know there is help.

There are many complicated reasons why someone decides to take their own life when they haven't been diagnosed with a terminal disease but those reasons are simply details. The source of all suicides is suffering. For people who are physically healthy and in no danger of dying any time soon, the suffering may be from long-term depression, anxiety and other mental health issues or from a recent, traumatic event.

Regardless, these individuals have concluded that causing their own death is the best form of treatment to the pain they feel.

The cause of that pain is also irrelevant.

For someone whose sole purpose in life is to be a household name, the realization that you'll never be as famous as you were last year and fewer and fewer people will remember you over time is a soul-crushing discovery. Yet, depending on the individual, this hurts as bad as losing multiple members of your family in an accident, losing a limb or even losing a job.

Whatever the source of the hurt, if suicidal thoughts are the outcome, then those feelings must be met head-on. At that point, the discussion isn't about suicide, it's about pain relief. Giving someone experiencing suicidal thoughts ways to cope gives them hope that they might not always feel the way they do now. Sometimes, sadly, the cure can be worse than the disease and coping methods lead to substance abuse, where the pain is buried under drugs and alcohol but not actually treated.

Not talking about suicide in public buries the problem. There is no shame in considering ending your own life during a dark time.

It's human to wonder who will miss you when you're gone. Getting help, however, takes courage - first, to admit that your suffering, which seems invisible to most others but is silently consuming you, and second, to believe someone can guide you through your pain.

It also takes courage to confront someone exhibiting suicide warning signs. Speaking up doesn't make you their counsellor or responsible to fix all their problems. All it does is show that you care enough to bring the suffering in your midst out into the open before tragedy occurs.

Encourage depressed people to get help since untreated depression is believed to be the number one cause for suicide. Watch for dramatic changes in personality, mood swings, sleeping habits, eating habits, drug and alcohol use, work performance, loss of interest in most activities and impulsive behaviour.

In recent years, we've become much better as a society in talking about mental health and rallying support for individuals who suffer from mental health issues.

Former TSN host Michael Landsberg gave a powerful talk in February at the UNBC Timberwolves Legacy Breakfast about the social stigma that persists around depression. It's that same stigma that gets in the way of talking about suicide openly and honestly.

Cariboo Prince George MP Todd Doherty's passion behind his private member's bill to develop a national framework to help men and women in uniform - from first responsders, police officers and firefighters to members of the Canadian Armed Forces - suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was to prevent so many suicides. He convinced his parliamentary colleagues among all the parties that these individuals step up for their country in times of need and now their country must step up for them in their time of need.

If we do nothing, people die. If we say nothing, people die.

We can do better but it starts with being able to talk about suicide, to help those who are contemplating taking their own life and to help those still hurting from the suicide of a beloved friend or family members.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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