Friday, February 12, 2010

Five years after suicide

This coming weekend, it will be five years since my brother took his life. He was 35 years old at the time. How ironic he chose to die in February - Suicide Prevention Month in many places. How ironic and how sad. I somehow doubt he knew about the suicide prevention thing. I doubt he could see beyond his own pain.

I have heard and read many times that people who commit suicide don't really want to die, they just want to stop the pain - and this is the only way they feel they can make it work. Some people say the act of suicide is selfish. Is it? In my opinion, people who get that far into despair don't think about what others are going to feel not because they are selfish, but because they can't get beyond their own pain. This past December, I separated my shoulder and felt the most intense pain I'd ever felt. As I was in pain, I didn't care about anyone else's needs or feelings - I just wanted the pain to go away. I don't see the mental pain as being all that much different. It hurts, just in a different way.

I wrote this post a few years ago and I think it's still pertinent now. I heard on the news the other day that the suicide rate in Canada is dropping - but one death is too much. It's one life lost that likely could have been saved. This is for you JP. I couldn't help you in life, maybe I can help others now:

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.

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