Thoughts on university suicides, from someone who's been there

Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. That means every day, about 2160 people die from suicide. These statistics make me cry every time I read them or think about them. This is not okay. I am not okay with this and cannot accept this reality. What’s worse is that the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020, the frequency of worldwide suicides will be every 20 seconds, doubling the amount of suicides that occur per day. I definitely cannot accept this. I cannot accept the fact that with the increased awareness and attempts at better education and stigma reduction, these statistics are getting worse. This is a huge part of what I want to tackle with Your Mind Matters, and although I’m aware I cannot change the world and improve these suicide rates on my own as one person, or even as one organization, I hope that the people who do hear our message can get help if they are struggling. I hope they know they don’t have to do it alone, they don’t have to struggle by themselves, and they can get help. I want there to be help available to them. I want the mental health support to be good enough to keep them around. I want their support system to be strong and make them feel loved and cared about. I know this is a lot, but this needs to happen. There is no excuse.

Having dealt with depression and anxiety for most of my life, and more recently bipolar disorder, I’ve experienced my fair share of suicidal thoughts. I’ve been there. I’ve hurt and I’ve felt pain and I thought that the only way out was death. At times, I did feel like suicide would be the answer. I can vividly recall instances where I’ve come close and contemplating ending my life, or worse, tried to harm myself and acted upon these urges. I don’t have the words to describe how awful the feeling is, but I’m sure you could imagine. It is the absolute worst feeling one could ever experience. Nothing feels worse. The fact that I’ve been there, yet I am still here is something I’m grateful for most days. I say most days because some days, I do have those thoughts. They kind of stick around with you in some way, and even when they go away they’re still sort of there and can creep up on you at any time. But, for the most part, I have been much better in that respect. I haven’t felt truly suicidal in a long time since before recovery, and when the thoughts may come up, I am able to deal with them. The fact that I get it, the fact that I’ve been there and the fact that it is very possible that at any point I could have been one of the people who decided to end their life and successfully done so is frightening and it breaks my heart when I think of it.

Whenever I hear of someone taking their own life, I get incredibly overwhelmed with emotion and feel so much pain and sadness for the individual and their family despite not knowing them. I feel so much of that pain and it affects me a great deal. I know that suicides happen everyday, everywhere, all the time. But, we don’t hear about them that often. There have been suicides at U of T that have hit close to home, because during my time there I felt very alone and hopeless and thought about suicide a lot. All university campuses experience a great deal of suicides due to a mix of mental illness, the pressures of school and balancing life, the isolation and loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, lack of social support and so much more. Suicide is complex and there are always a multitude of reasons. It’s not beneficial to even try to decipher why it happened sometimes, just because of the fact that you cannot undo the past and change what happened as much as we wish we could. What’s more important is prevention: noticing the signs, talking about it, having better mental health services, etc.

There has been a recent student suicide at the University of Waterloo, and I came across the statement from the school that included something the student had written about mental illness before their death.

This is what the student wrote:

Let’s talk about mental illness. Let’s talk about how debilitating it can be. Let’s talk about fear and worry. Let's talk about sadness and hopelessness. Let’s talk about sleepless nights and restless days. Let’s talk about tears and pain. Let’s talk. For a long time, I have struggled with anxiety and depression. Last year was definitely a pretty low one for me. I felt trapped in my mind, not feeling like anyone would be able to help me. I kept quiet, and it almost cost me my life. I can proudly say that I’ve been improving. I’ve been working on opening up and letting people in, which is hard and terrifying, but necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle a lot. Anxiety and depression will be things that I will always carry with me, and I feel the effects of every day. But I am not alone, and I can get through anything. Being brave, being honest, and being kind are so important to me. It takes bravery to be vulnerable to others when asking for help. And I’ve learned that sometimes I need to be my own superhero to be brave enough to fight my battles. I’ve also learned that some battles don’t need to be fought alone, and I have to be honest enough to both myself and others to say when I need help. Most importantly, it is necessary to be kind. Be kind to yourself and to everyone around you. You never know who may be struggling, or what others might be dealing with. A little kindness goes a long way. I am so thankful and so lucky to have some absolutely amazing friends and people in my life who demonstrate constant kindness. Mental illness told me that no one cared, but these people told me different. I hope that everyone can have a support system to rely on because, without mine, I don’t know where I’d be. #BellLetsTalk. Let’s talk about progress. Let’s talk about healing. Let’s talk about strength and resilience. Let’s talk about bright futures and sunny days. Let’s talk.

Needless to say, reading this statement hit me so hard and made me so emotional. I was so proud of this student for sharing this and for being open about their mental illness and their struggles. Some beautiful words were shared and it absolutely breaks my heart that they are no longer with us. It breaks my heart that they could not be saved and that they could not get the help and support they required. My heart breaks for their family and friends, who are mourning this tragic loss and trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of this tragedy, while trying to cope with their grief and manage their turbulent emotions at this difficult time. I cannot imagine what they are going through and I know that there are no words that are going to bring them healing and take their pain away but I truly wish them strength and resilience as they navigate this terrible loss and hope that they find healing, and most importantly, seek and receive the support they need to get through this.

I can’t help but think about how this could have been anyone. This could have been me. I started talking about mental health and my own struggles years ago, and would post similar things, especially on Bell Let’s Talk day. I talked a lot about my depression and anxiety and also shared messages of hope whenever I could. I read that statement and I cried because I just thought about how I could have written that. That could have been me. I, too, had gotten to a place where I felt comfortable sharing my story and my struggles and it took guts, but I did it. So did this student. It hurts me that their beautiful message of hope was one that they were able to write at the time, but it did not fully resonate all the time because it was up against mental illness, who wins this battle too often. They wrote, “Mental illness told me that no one cared, but these people told me different.” Sometimes, mental illness convinces us of things that are untrue, but I know that they were loved and cared about to no end. I know that for a fact, without even knowing them. I don’t blame them for failing to see that, because my mind tells me all the time that no one cares. I’m just sorry that their pain was far too unbearable and that they did not feel the love and support they deserved to feel.

What’s damaging, I think, is when people are open about their mental illness and they talk about recovery and how they’re are doing better than they once were, but people fail to realize that battling mental illness is a lifelong process. It doesn’t stop. Even if people seem better, there’s a lot of work that goes into it and there’s a lot of thoughts they’re dealing with simultaneously. It’s easy to read a post like that, or even any that I’ve written or any other person talking about their mental health openly, and think “that’s great, I’m so glad they’re better” and just carry on. But it’s still a battle. They still struggle. And while it’s great that they’ve obtained these new skills to push through and cope with their illness and work towards recovery, recovery is messy and complicated and all over the place. Relapse is part of recovery. So, don’t disregard someone’s mental illness just because they’ve said they’re better or because they’ve improved a lot and seem better. It’s always there, it’s just hidden better. And when you stop supporting them, caring for them, and loving them in the ways you do when they struggle, then they slip back into that place sometimes. And in the worst of cases, it can end like it did for this poor student.

I commend this student for their bravery in sharing this, and of course I wish the outcome were different. But I hope that this can serve as a reminder to everyone of the fragility of the human brain and how mental illness takes its toll on us. I hope it sheds light on what recovery is like. I hope that it gets people talking. I hope universities are listening and work towards better mental health services that have been essential for years. I hope we can talk more about mental health and mental illness with total transparency and honesty. Know that you do not have to pretend you are okay. There is help out there. There are people who love you and care about you. You are needed. This world would not be the same without you. So please, if you are reading this and you feel suicide or ever have, I hope you stay. It does get better. It is going to get better and you deserve to be here to see that happen.

Finally, to this incredible student who will be missed dearly: I am proud of you for writing this, for staying as long as you did and fighting as hard as you fought. You are strong and resilient. I wish that your days up there are bright and sunny and that you are no longer in pain. I did not know you, but you’re in my thoughts and always will be.

If you’re feeling suicidal or need support:

Call Good 2 Talk: 1-866-925-5454

Message Crisis Text Line by texting ‘HOME’ to 686868

If you’re in crisis or severe distress, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department (I highly recommend CAMH emergency department).

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© 2019 Your Mind Matters
Website design by Vanessa Bancheri

This is not a site for personal disclosure of suicidal thoughts or behaviours. If you are in crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department for assistance.

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