LETTER: Keep talking about mental health

January 30, 2018 - 9:12pm Updated: January 31, 2018 - 9:18am

Last summer a dear friend of mine was taken too soon. He died from suicide.

As I got ready for work on a Monday morning, running around slightly frazzled and half unpacked after being in Winnipeg for the weekend, I got a call just as I was heading out the door. I sat at the kitchen table and cried, heartbroken.

It had been a while since I lost someone I knew so suddenly, no chance for goodbyes. Instead all I had were questions, and guilt.

Long story short, we had been disconnected the past couple years, and a few weeks prior to his passing I had been thinking how I needed to reach out to him and catch up. So much had happened- his marriage ended, I got married, both of us were affected by the slumping oilfield economy - he was training abroad, and I'd started a new job. As I drove to work I couldn't help but think that 'maybe if I would've just called him when I thought about it, I could've helped him - maybe even saved him.' I think these are the natural thoughts that come to mind in a situation like this, and I probably wasn't the only one thinking these thoughts.

But, this story isn't about me, it's about him and it's a (another) story about the importance of de-stigmatizing mental health. After years of battling depression, and his teenage years riddled with concussions, the choice he made may not truly have been his. It was depression that made this decision for him.

The facts around mental health should be well-known by now; there are great initiatives to help raise awareness both nationally (Bell Let's Talk) and locally (Smiles Through Lindsey). But, the fact remains "suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age. The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women" (CMHA.ca). When I think that within my age group it's more likely to experience loss due to suicide instead of disease, it doesn’t really make sense and it’s hard for that information to sink in, until someone you love is taken by it.

There is still a lack of understanding and a misconception around mental illness. We need to recognize that the statistics around individuals experiencing mental health issues are staggering: one in five Canadians are dealing with mental health problems (CMHA.ca). Think of 5 people you know - family, friends, coworkers - and then consider that one of them could be fighting an internal battle. "Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem" (CMHA.ca).

This probably isn't the first time you've heard the statistics on the importance of respecting mental health. And that's good. I'm saying it again because we need to keep talking about it, again and again until that twinge of judgement or assumption of weakness is erased. We need to tell our loved ones we're there for them. We need to be aware of the local support systems so we can direct those who need help to potentially life-saving resources. We need to remember the phrase #SickNotWeak when someone reaches out for help; our attitudes and actions are the only things that can break the stigma around mental health.

My friend did seek help, extensively, and he did have a loving support network and still, depression won. He didn’t take his own life, as people sometimes say when suicide occurs, suicide took his life because of a disease. A disease you can’t see but engulfs its victims mentally and steals pieces of their life, and sometime their life entirely.

At his service mental health was front and centre, there was no dancing around the subject. On every table there was information on suicide and depression, numerous speakers mentioned how prevalent mental illness is and how important it is for us to remove the stigma around depression. Thank you to the family for starting a public conversation about the seriousness of mental illness.

I felt compelled to write this not only to help myself deal with the grief I’ve experienced but more importantly to help continue this conversation and remind people that depression is a serious disease. If you think someone is struggling, reach out to them. If you’re unsure how to approach the topic, there are resources to help both you and them. If you've just been putting off reaching out to an old friend, don’t wait.

Mental Health Resources

https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/get-help

https://cmha.ca/document-category/mental-health

Red Deer: http://suicidehelp.ca/resources/general/

Kaelyn Gillard

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