Time to talk about mental illness

World Suicide Prevention Day is a chance to share awareness of mental health issues and help prevent suicide

Michele Blais says it's time to bring mental illness out in the open

Michele Blais says it's time to bring mental illness out in the open

My first experience of losing someone to suicide was when I was 14.

Jimmy was 20 and at the time was living in Montreal attending theatre school. He was so funny, with a huge smile that lit up a room, smart, kind, good looking and to me he was so special and his death caused a shock wave. His life seemed to be so great — a wonderful family, he was pursuing his dream of being an actor, great friends, and then he killed himself. His brother was my good friend and Jimmy’s death was a shock to the whole family leaving them numb. Confused, hurt, angry that he had died, with so many questions.

My friend found it so difficult and wondered what he could have done to help him, the same for his parents, constantly second-guessing decisions they made for the past few years. Maybe he shouldn’t have moved to Montreal; the acting was too intense, too emotional, perhaps he was lonely. Was he on drugs? Why didn’t he call? The family was never the same.

Rumour had it his girlfriend left him, and that triggered it, but that didn’t make sense. Turns out of course depression had been with him for years, and the funny front we saw hid the pain and depression he lived with.

Sept. 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day, and today and tomorrow and next year we will help save lives if we make mental illness a table topic for discussion. Let’s not hide it anymore, let’s talk about it. Let’s encourage others to talk.

There is a video on the Movember website at www.movember.ca called “Suicide notes talk too late” that is aimed at men. It shows seven men, each of them reading a suicide note. At first I thought it was from someone they loved, and it was — it was their own note that they had written at a painful time in their lives — three years, 15 years, eight years ago. The message is “men — let’s talk when things get tough.”

I think this not only is for men, this is for women as well — young men and women —  as both young and old need to talk about what they are feeling, their hurt, their fears, their questions.

In my own life, help has come in some unusual places when I really needed it.  My physiotherapist, Richard Healy, who was working with me on my sciatica, got me to admit I was very depressed. We talked, came up with some strategies involving counselling and exercise and I felt like a 200-pound anvil had been lifted off my shoulders. He named it and I acknowledged it and moved ahead. In addition to the great support I received from him for my physical pain I am very grateful for help for my mental and emotional pain.

In our community for youth we have the Ministry of Children and Family Development — Child and Youth Mental Health Services, and they operate a drop-in clinic Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m. at 3007-35th Ave. Call 250-549-5404 for more information.

For adults we have Adult Mental Health Services and Substance Use at the Health Unit operated by Interior Health — call and speak to an intake worker. There are several community agencies, including CMHA, that offer a host of mental health services including the 24/7 crisis line at 1-888-353-2273. They have the best website of local resources at www.pin.ca. There is also the Family Resource Centre, NOYFSS, White Valley Resource Centre, plus others and some very good private therapists, and your family physician, to name a few services of support.

Other supports could be school counsellors, peer counsellors, perhaps your church and your circle of friends and family. For children and youth, caring adults in their lives make a huge difference — teachers, coaches, child care providers, neighbours.

The first person we speak to might not be the right person, so don’t stop there, speak to someone else. Keep talking and asking for help.

When someone comes to us and shares that they are struggling, the best gift you can give in that moment is to be present, to listen and together work on next steps which may be finding help. Walking beside someone on their journey is a very important position and is an honour.

Parents, friends and family members can be aware of services available in our community, regionally or provincially, like The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at keltymentalhealth.ca, which is a great online resource.

Mental illness is an illness, let’s talk about it. If we can hear about friends or family member’s detailed surgeries, birth experiences, diet struggles or bowel movements impacted by physical illness, we can certainly listen to how they live with, struggle and hopefully find treatment and support for their depression, anxiety or other mental illness. One in four of us will experience this.

In learning about mental illness, let us also learn about mental wellness and how we can lead healthier lives. Let’s start by talking.

Michele Blais has worked with children and families in the North Okanagan for the past 29 years. She is a longtime columnist with The Morning Star, appearing every other Sunday.