Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series on mental health leading up to Mental Health Awareness week Oct. 5 to 11. The first of the series is MENTAL HEALTH: Walking the troubled path of autism
Stepping into the half-full bath tub, Harvey reached for the electric toaster plugged into a nearby socket and let it slip through his fingers into the water.
My grandfather’s life ended that warm spring day and our family was left with the task of trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together to understand why.
The investigating police officer and attending coroner labelled his death a suicide.
Emotions of grief, anger, guilt and frustration were all rolled into one and while the way he chose to escape from beneath the burden of his life was simple, the thought process and circumstances leading up to that day were anything but.
All these years later, many of the questions surrounding that day remain and will likely never be answered.
Sadly, suicide is not uncommon and tends to be more prevalent among the young and old. As well, prevention can be difficult if not impossible in some cases to prevent.
In one weekend alone this past summer two Penticton youths took their lives in separate incidents.
Families of young victims have the added difficulty of coping with not seeing them reach their potential in life.
Beth, who asked that her last name not be used, found her 16-year-old son lying face down in his bed three years ago. Beside him were two empty bottles of prescription drugs.
Unknown to her at the time, she later learned the boy had become increasingly depressed about some family issues and troubles at school and felt he had no where to turn.
“I still wrestle with the guilt every day — that I should have known or seen some sign but I didn’t, how do you forgive yourself?” she said. “I’m like any parent, the last thing you want to do is outlive your children.”
These sad stories are all too familiar to Sharon Evans, a retired psychiatric nurse, who continues to work on the mental health front lines as president of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society in Penticton.
“These people who take their own lives just get to the point where they can’t cope with it any more, it’s just overwhelming,” said Evans. “They don’t see there is any possibility of that horrible blackness ever going away. It’s just going to get worse and worse. It’s an excruciatingly painful place to be.
“Unfortunately these people sink to the level of despair that they don’t see any way out but to end their lives. The trouble is you may not be able to see any sign and if someone is determined enough and if they’ve made up their mind.”
She too experienced first-hand the pain of losing a loved one to suicide after her father took his life.
“In my dad’s case, he had some health problems and he basically ran out of hope,” she recalled. “He was always a very strong person and when my youngest sister died of cancer the fact that he couldn’t make it better and for one of the first times in his life he couldn’t do something that worked, that ate him up alive and partly lead to his decision.”
She believes that in its “narrowest definition,” some element of mental illness plays a role in someone ending their life. It’s estimated one in four people will experience some symptoms of mental illness.
Evans believes youth suicide has a lot to do with the time kids spend alone. She also pointed to results of a study showing 37 percent of youth in Penticton live in poverty as part of the reason for that.
To combat the problem of suicide among young people, numerous resources have become available, including a new program called Youth Self Esteem.
“There is a tremendous amount of help out there now for everyone no matter how old you are or how bad you feel your life is,” said Evans. “There can be a silver lining in those clouds, sometimes you just have to believe it’s there.”
And for myself, like many people who have lost loved ones to suicide, when I think of my grandfather these days, I choose to remember not how he died but how he lived. The memories of our fishing trips, trudging through knee-deep snow to find that perfect Christmas tree and the Dec. 25th morning I got my first .22 rifle that was nearly as tall as I was. My grandfather may be gone, but through those memories he will always be with me.
WHO TO CALL FOR HELP:
B.C. Crisis Centre
Canadian Mental Health
Kids Help Phone
Interior Health’s mental health and substance abuse services