Selfish. Attention seeking. Weak of mind. That's what we think when we hear someone has committed suicide, right? I admit that there was a time that I thought suicide was selfish. I thought how could anybody do that to their family and friends? No regard for the pain that they would undoubtedly leave behind. I thought about the people left in the wake of the tragedy. I didn't think of the person themselves.
But that was before. That was before I knew what deep, unrelenting pain can feel like.
In 1841 a young lawyer wrote the following to his law partner: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on Earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better, it appears to me." The young lawyer? Abraham Lincoln. He wrote of his pain and depression about 19 years before he became President of the United States and left a huge mark on history. Thank goodness he didn't choose death.
Some families have long histories of cancer or diabetes or some other particular disease to which many members are afflicted. In my family, the gene pool lottery came up with mental illness. There are at least three suicides that my mother can recall in her family tree and certainly many others of us who have lived with or are living through mental illness. *A cousin with schizophrenia walked into the North Saskatchewan River. An elderly uncle also walked into a river. And another shot himself.
Fun family history, huh? It makes me sad to think that these people who I never met but who are linked to me through family and shared experience, had lost all hope. Thankfully, I have never lost my own hope. In my worst days, and there have been countless, I have held onto those tiny shreds of hope and light. I have thought about letting go but never in a real way.
Nearly 3000 people on average commit suicide daily, according to the World Health Organization. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. If we do the math on that it amounts to about one million people who die by suicide each year.
So why do people do it? I strongly believe that nobody truly wants to die. They only want that deep, dark pain to end. Sometimes death feels like the only way to make that happen. But here's the bright spot in all this - suicide is 100% preventable.
The first step towards preventing suicide is to begin talking about mental illness. It's through conversation and education that we will eventually eliminate stigma. That is my greatest wish and hope and it's why I won't stop talking about something that so few want to talk about, still.
September 8 - 14 is World Suicide Prevention Week and the United Nations has declared Tuesday, September 10th World Suicide Prevention Day. You can honour those who have fallen and those who are still waging the war against mental illness by joining a global candlelight vigil and lighting a candle at 8pm in your time zone. If you are on Twitter, please tweet using the hashtag #WSPD.
Please join me in the discussion and the quest for understanding. Challenge your beliefs and those of others. As the Dalai Lama so wisely said, "If we lose our hope, that's our real disaster."
* Please note that the family members who died by suicide came in generations before me.
P.S. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness or is suicidal, you must seek help. To learn more about mental illness please check out these great resources: World Suicide Prevention Day ; Partners for Mental Health and Canadian Mental Health Association