Medical treatment can help
By Cidalia Pereira, Supervisor Counselling Services | 03/03/2021
For the last year, I’ve experienced but truly missed those special times on our calendar. Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day for example, have come and gone without the usual hustle and bustle of shopping for presents or meeting and mingling with family and friends. The hugs and kisses and the noise of being in a room full of loved ones catching up on the latest family news or arguing about sports has been absent in our lives.
Instead, we’ve had to make due with phone and Zoom calls and I often think about the toll the pandemic is taking on all of us.
Recently, I was watching the news and a report came on of a father sharing his thoughts about losing his son to suicide. His son was a bright light in his life that was suddenly extinguished. His son was smart, handsome and athletic. He was doing well in school and had lots of friends.
The importance of looking after your mental health
This father described how the pandemic affected them, his son being at home, not being able to participate in sports, not being able to get together with his friends. How that loss of social connection and the loss of structure began to take its toll. So much so that in despair, his son took his own life.
This father, this man, had the courage to come on television to send a message to parents about the importance of looking after your mental health. He explained that the signs of depressions and suicide are not always the typical anti-social and withdrawn behaviors. His son was very active and social yet was struggling with depression.
He talked about recent statistics. More young people will feel despair or hopelessness and try to kill themselves. Some will succeed. He hoped to prevent this pain of losing someone to suicide for another parent, sibling or partner.
He said something that stayed with me. Feeling depressed is like having diabetes, it is a physical condition that can be treated; if someone seeks medical treatment, they can get better.
His loss brought tears to my eyes and I reflected on our Portuguese-speaking community and the clients Abrigo serves. We too hear from parents who share the pain of losing their child to suicide. In recent months, I’ve heard three stories of parents’ grief and loss.
What words do we have to give comfort? How can we help the person who asks “WHY?”
First, it is not their fault, they are not to blame for the choice made by another person. Family members can feel overwhelmed by their grief, their feelings of sorrow, sadness, anger, shame, and guilt. Each person will feel a rollercoaster of strong emotions, this is normal. Each person will heal on their own time and in their own way.
It is important to tell others about the suicide, even though it may be difficult to speak openly and honestly about it. You can prepare a simple phrase to say to others such as “He was living with profound depression and took his own life.”
We also recognize that in the Roman Catholic faith, suicide is considered shameful and this is an additional burden some families carry with them. It is important to be able to talk about it to cope with the grief and begin the healing process. Not talking about it, keeping it a secret, increases the feelings of shame.
As the father stated on television, depression is like any illness, the better we understand it, the better we can take care of ourselves and treat it to get better. There is help for those in need.
If you think someone you care about may be at risk for suicide:
– Listen and take them seriously. Don’t judge, be positive and hopeful;
– Ask them if they are thinking about suicide, if they have a plan;
– Let them know help is available;
– Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling;
– Encourage them to seek help;
– Make a safety plan with them. Who will they call for support?
– Seek support for yourself.
Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200
Toronto Distress Centre: 416-408-HELP (4357)
Centre for Addictions and Mental Health: www.camh.ca
Primary care provider or mental health clinician
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