Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Suicide, not a disease, so no walkathons, ribbons, or research race

There was more news about suicide yesterday in the papers. This time it’s about whether some antidepressants really do raise or lower the risk of suicide. I don’t know – I’m not an expert in that department. I think suicide is way more complicated than if a drug helps or prevents it. What I do know is that suicide hurts like hell. My baby brother took his life in February 2005. He was 35 years old.

Quebec has one of the highest young male suicide rates in the country. Young men are one of the highest risk groups for suicide. In a youth suicide report published by the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care, it says: “Suicide has accounted for about 2% of annual deaths in Canada since the late 1970s. Eighty percent of all suicides in 1991 involved men. The male:female ratio for suicide risk was 3.8 to 1. In both males and females, the greatest increase between 1960 and 1991 occurred in the 15- to 19-year age group, with a four-and-a-half-fold increase for males, and a three-fold increase for females.”

Statistics aren’t that much better in the United States. Published in Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide, by David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, and Karen E. Norberg, March 2001, are these findings: “Suicide rates among youths aged 15-24 have tripled in the past half-century, even as rates for adults and the elderly have declined. For every youth suicide completion, there are nearly 400 suicide attempts.”

According to an article by Stewart Tendler that appeared in the London Times, UK, in November 2004, suicides made up 13% of the inquest deaths in England and Wales in 2003. Compared with 744 women who committed suicide, 2,511 men did. Although the numbers in the UK seem to have stabilized, it is still the younger men, between 15 and 24 years, who have the highest suicide rate.

Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? Eighty percent of the suicides in Canada in 1991 involved men?? Suicide rates have tripled in the US among older teens and there were 1,767 more men in the UK who committed suicide than women? Between 1960 and 1991, there was a 4.5-fold increase for males and a 3-fold increase for females in Canada? Where is the outcry? Where is the demand for something to be done about this? Oh, right, I forgot, we don’t talk about suicide. It makes people uncomfortable. Talking about suicide means that we have to talk about mental illness, depression, pain, and despair. Not exactly cocktail chatter.

I’ve read, although I can’t pull the sources right now, that the rate among young men may actually be higher because of accidents that are really disguised suicides without actual intent, meaning that some of the young men who crash their cars or do dumb stunts that result in death may actually be playing with suicidal behaviour. I can’t back that up, but I do recall reading it. I wonder if there is some merit to that though.

Action has to be taken to help those young people who feel that there is no other outlet, no other way to solve their problems than to end their lives. I’m not a psychologist or a social worker. I don’t have the answers to any of the questions of how to stop this, but if people were dying at these rates of a disease, or some sort of fatal accident, I’m sure that people would be taking action. The only way action is going to happen is if we start to talk about the people who we lose through suicide. We need to bring it out to the forefront of people’s thoughts. We need to do something because our young people, our young men, are so desperate that they see no other way out.

Do I sound angry? I am. I’m angry, upset, saddened, and frustrated. JP was 35 years old. He had a rough life and was never able to get the help he really needed. He hung himself on a Friday night in February. He was alone.

I would do anything to get my brother back. The help I gave him wasn’t enough. The help his friends gave him wasn’t enough. His two young sons weren’t enough. We all tried in our own way, stumbling through the mental health minefield. The help I did give wasn’t enough, he couldn’t take it. I don’t know why, but it didn’t work. I miss him and my mind often goes to where he must have been before he died. My heart still cries for him and probably always will.

We have to stop this. We have to.

Today's News:
Suicide Findings Question Link to Antidepressants
Western diet linked to breast cancer in Asian women
Aging: Some Antidepressants Tied to Bone Loss, Findings Show
Chronic insomnia linked to depression, anxiety
A Healthy Diet Promotes Healthy Lungs


Dawn said...

Words don't say these things very well, Marijke, but I am truly sorry to hear about your brother. And it does leave such a residue of guilt behind because people can't help but ask "what more could I have done".

You're right - if it was a disease it would attract much more public attention but it's an area that makes people feel uncomfortable.

I'm sure you all did the best you could for your brother in your own ways.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Thanks Dawn. It's kind of odd, but I don't feel guilty. At least I don't think I do. What I do feel is a profound sense of sadness that I couldn't protect him. When he was younger, I did some things to help, like bail him out of jail, provide him with things sometimes, just listened. But as we grew older, and I had my own family to care for, that kind of fell by the wayside.

I miss the little boy he was, I miss the young man he became. And I should never have had to plan his funeral. That just wasn't right.

Crabby McSlacker said...

That's so sad to hear. Good for you for taking your grief and anger and using it to educate others about this important problem.