Tag Archives: Suicide prevention

Let’s keep talking…

Stephanie&Starr

At the end of the evening. Me with Starr Dobson, President & CEO, Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

In honour of Mental Health Awareness week, please take the time to watch these four minutes of an incredible two hour conversation I had with my fellow award recipients. They are all amazing individuals who are working hard to advance the understanding of mental health issues.

As much as I’m cringing from seeing myself at such an incredibly unflattering angle (Yikes! I swear, my double chin isn’t THAT big) this video is too important not to share.

OUTSTANDING YOUTH: AMANDA HIGGINS
Amanda is a grade 12 honours student and varsity athlete at Halifax West High School. The 17-year-old student government executive recently spearheaded the very first Mental Health Awareness Conference at her school. Battling her own anxiety and depression, Amanda strives to let other young people know they are not struggling alone.

“I am truly thankful for Amanda because without her there is no saying where I would be today.” ~ Abby Haikings, Amanda’s classmate & friend

OUTSTANDING SENIOR: JIM MALONE
Jim facilitates the “Upstairs Kitchen Club” – a wellness and recovery peer support group for people living with depression and anxiety. The 62-year-old also shares his time and talents with the Clinical Pathways Project, the Healthy Minds Cooperative, Self-Help Connection and the Nova Scotia Bipolar Peer Support Alliance. Jim exemplifies the power of self-care by using healthy life practices to thrive while living with clinical depression and anxiety.

“Jim is a hope generator and a lighthouse in our self-help community.” ~Mickie Bowe, Self-Help Connection

OUTSTANDING HEALTHCARE PROVIDER: NICOLE ROBINSON
Nicole is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst who works with the Dual Diagnosis Program through COAST and Emerald Hall at the Nova Scotia Hospital. As an advocate for the rights of individuals living with an intellectual challenge and mental illness, she inspires others through her words and actions. Nicole has played a crucial role in helping to transform health services and improve care practices for people living with Dual Diagnosis within the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“Nicole is an exceptional healthcare provider who is a champion of best practice in providing care for individuals living with the double stigma of intellectual disability and a mental illness.” ~ Dr. Mutiat Sulyman, Dual Diagnosis Program

OUTSTANDING CAREGIVER: SHEILA MORRISON
Sheila is an author, retired teacher and physiotherapist, wife and mother to three. Her 43-year-old daughter lives with severe mental illness related to a syndrome known as 22q. For the past decade, Sheila has been her daughter’s full-time caregiver. Sheila was told her daughter should be institutionalized, but she chose to provide a loving and non-judgmental environment instead. Today, her daughter cooks and bakes on her own, enjoys creative arts, helping others and spending time outdoors.

“Despite being told to institutionalize her daughter many years ago, Sheila had the courage to leave her job to care for her daughter. Sheila is tenacious, kind, non-judgmental and unconditional in her support.” ~ Margaret Murray, CMHA Halifax-Dartmouth

Thank you for watching!

Please, share this video and keep the conversation going.

 

#BellLetsTalk

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Today is Bell Let’s Talk day. This is the day that Bell Media gives 5 cents to various mental health organizations for every tweet, text or post that tags #BellLetsTalk.

The problem is I don’t feel like writing about mental health issues today. In fact, I haven’t felt like writing about anything for months… and I haven’t. My last post here was in November and the last time I did any serious work on my book was a couple of months before that.

I last blogged while I was away at a conference in Washington, a trip that saw me cocooned in my hotel bed for many more hours than I spent at the meetings. At the time I just thought that it was a chance to catch up on some rest, to slow down from the busy working-parent routine that is my life. However, when I returned from Washington and I still wanted to spend all of my time sleeping, I finally admitted to myself what was happening. My depression, which had been in a simmer since the beginning of fall, was now in a full-on boil.

Over the next week the simplest of tasks became overwhelming, and when a concerned friend at work asked if I was okay, I began crying and couldn’t stop. I took the rest of the week off work and saw my doctor the next day. Perhaps the hardest part was acknowledging that the combination of medications that had kept me healthy and stable for over two years was no longer working. I was swamped with hopelessness and once again wished I was dead.

My family doctor is amazing but even she can only do so much. No longer able to treat my complicated disease, she began the fight to get me in to see a psychiatrist. She made phone call after phone call, stressing the urgency of my situation to every gatekeeper that she reached, but mental health resources are stretched too thin and the best she could do was an appointment in March. My only other option was to go to Emergency and have myself admitted to hospital, a burden I wasn’t ready to place on my family.

Luckily I have a dear friend who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and so I finally swallowed my pride and asked her for a favour. Knowing my history, and recognizing the severity of my situation, she didn’t hesitate to help and got me an intake assessment for the Community Mental Health program for the following week. There I met with a mental health nurse who determined that I indeed needed to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible and I received an appointment for two weeks later.

It has now been almost two months since I saw the psychiatrist. She changed a couple of my medications but I haven’t noticed any positive effects. While it is true that I’m no longer weepy, I think that’s because I’m just too tired and numb to cry anymore. I have another appointment in a couple of weeks and I’m finding the wait interminable. Sometimes I feel like the only thing keeping me alive is the hope that at our next visit I will be referred to be assessed for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

ECT, or “shock treatments” as it used to be known, may seem like a drastic step but after so many years of living with treatment resistant depression it feels like it is my last and best option. Here is what one of our local psychiatrists, Dr. Joseph Sadek, had to say about it in an interview:

I am in the ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) room inside Nova Scotia Hospital. Today I will give ECT to 22 patients. ECT experience is wonderful. You see people getting better to a degree that changes the quality of their lives so much. People who were determined to end their own lives are happy and grateful to be alive. People who lost touch with others are back socializing and enjoying their families and friends. People who were hearing disturbing voices are no longer hearing them. I meet the staff bringing patients and asking them how they are doing. I become thrilled how well they do after few treatments. ECT makes my day brighter and happier. It is a great start of the day.

I have an amazing life and so much to be grateful for… I would give anything to feel it.

Well, I’ve actually written a lot, considering I didn’t feel like writing anything at all. I suppose I would have been a hypocrite if I tweeted about #BellLetsTalk but didn’t actually do any of the talking myself.

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will donate 5¢ more towards mental health initiatives in Canada, by counting every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter. #BellLetsTalk

Reaching out and saving lives

World-Suicide-Prevention-Day-2015

Today in Canada …
11 people will end their lives by suicide.
210 others will attempt to end their lives.
77-110 people will become newly bereaved by suicide.

It’s World Suicide Prevention day. For those of you who don’t know why this is an important day for me, you can read this post, My fish are dead.

Since this year’s motto is

Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives

I figured today was the perfect day to give an update on what I’ve been doing with my days off – I’ve been taking meetings and booking speaking engagements!

The next one is in a couple of weeks, I am going to be the “first voice” speaker at a Government of Nova Scotia mental health training program. It will be a session where I discuss my personal mental health and how it affects me in terms of my job and workplace.

Then I have two dates booked with Saint Mary’s University. They are having a mental health awareness month in October and I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the official opening and also to appear as a panelist at a session later in the month.

My most recent meeting was with The Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. Also in October, I will be giving a presentation to their student body. This talk will focus on mental health self-awareness, awareness of peers, and the importance of seeking help.

These university talks are very exciting for me because this was the age I was at when I tried to kill myself. My goal is to reach one young person with every talk.

While I’ve been preparing for these presentations, I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection and I’ve realized something important… Maybe I’ve lived such a full and successful life, not in spite of my depression, but because of it.

If this is true, and I really believe it is, then I have a responsibility to embody this year’s motto and will continue to seek out, and accept, whatever speaking opportunities I can. So far, so good!

Have any suggestions for me?

One life at a time…

As I talked about in this post, I’ve been feeling a need to reach out to high school and university students who may be having their own struggles with mental illness. I want to break down the barriers that surround the subject of mental health and let them know that it’s okay to need support. I don’t want anyone to be too ashamed to ask for help; to die of embarrassment.

Today, I got my first chance to do just that.

I am lucky enough to have a great friend who is a teacher at one of our area high schools and she arranged for me to speak to another teacher’s sociology class as part of their program on brain development. This morning I gave a straight 75 minute talk to this class and it went great! Most of the kids didn’t text the entire time, and I’m sure those that did were just giving me a shout-out.

But seriously, it went pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. A few students stuck around after class to thank me and to tell me they found the talk very interesting. Two girls told me that they thought I was brave to be so open about my mental health and they liked hearing my story because they had each gone through some difficult stuff in the past and could relate. Great feedback.

Most importantly, however, was the student who quietly waited until all of the others were done chatting with me and then just stood looking at me with huge eyes. When I asked if she wanted to talk to me privately, she shyly answered, “Okay.”

My teacher friend showed the two of us to an unused classroom and then left us alone. Things went slowly at first because she was holding on tight, but eventually she opened up. She’s been severely depressed, lonely, and scared. I was the first person she felt she could tell.

I got her permission to include her teacher (my amazing friend) in the conversation and together we walked her downstairs to the school counsellor’s office. I left her with a hug and my e-mail address.

Can a writer be at a loss for words?

I just don’t know how to express how I feel about this experience today. I’m both exhilarated and thoroughly exhausted at the same time.

The process of developing this presentation was an interesting one because it really forced me to go back at look at things objectively. On one hand, I have lived a blessed life; full of loving family, supportive friends and amazing experiences. On the other, my inner road has been extraordinarily rocky and under major construction since I was a teenager.

Would I go back and change any of it if I could?

Although I would like to say “yes” and spare my family the pain that my illness has inflicted upon them over the years, the answer is unequivocally “no”.

If I were to go back and change things so that I was never depressed, I would be an entirely different person. I would have gone to medical school as planned, and missed out on my travel with the tennis tours and all of the amazing experiences and friendships that came from it.

If I hadn’t been travelling with tennis, I wouldn’t have been in Toronto at the right time to reconnect with The Husband. How could I possibly wish to live a life that doesn’t have him at the centre? And of course, if I hadn’t married The Husband, my two beautiful boys wouldn’t exist. The mere mention of that as a possibility makes my heart stop beating.

And now, after today’s experience, I feel even more assured and know that my rocky road life has given me a unique ability to reach out and help ease someone else’s pain.

Turns out, I didn’t need to go to medical school after all.

My fish are dead*

WARNING: If you are my mother, you may want to skip this post.

March is next week and I’ve just uncovered a pile of unopened Christmas cards in the kitchen drawer. I had a rough winter and things that I couldn’t face were pushed aside. If I open those cards, I’ll have to acknowledge the relationships they hold. Concede that there are people who care, have to care for them in return.

Life isn’t as easy to shove away as those colourful envelopes.

There have been too many lies in my life. I lie to cover-up my feelings and I lie to make people go away. Eventually the lies become too many; too many to keep track of and too many to care about. The lies are my shield, but they make me tired.

When I get too tired, I just want it all to end.

I now realize I’ve been depressed since my teen years. There were so many days that I pretended to be sick because I couldn’t go to school and face my small group of friends. Only now do I see I wasn’t pretending… I really was sick.

Everything came to a head in university. That’s when the people became too many, the exposure constant and the expectations too great.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to act happy everyday when you aren’t. This energy gets sucked away and there is no way to recharge it, no way to rebuild the facade that gets you through the day. The only coping mechanism in my arsenal was avoidance.

Like the Christmas cards in my kitchen drawer, I started pushing the things I couldn’t deal with out of sight. I broke up with my boyfriend and cut off my friends. I was getting A’s but I stopped attending classes. I withdrew from daily life and spent my days hiding in a distant corner of an obscure building. I told myself that nobody missed me.

At home I lied that classes were great. All was fine, I was okay. I lied with every breath and I got tired.

When I got too tired, I tried to make it all end.

I lied to my doctor to get pills. I lied to my family so I could stay home that day. I lied to myself and was convinced it was best for everyone.

My family came home early and found me. No one can lie well enough to pretend that hasn’t left a scar.

Now that I’m older, I’m not as good an actor as I once was and my loved ones can better sense my lies. They feel me withdrawing and they pull me back in… I’m still depressed.

Recently there have been days when I’ve told myself that it would be better for everyone if I was gone. But now I have kids and that lie is too big to be convincing. Even I can see the truth, how it would fuck them up forever.

I’ve only just come out of the dark tunnel that I was in over the winter. New drugs, a new therapist and a trip in the sun have helped. I seek support and talk easier now than I did when I was younger… I have a hell of a lot more to lose.

Maybe tonight I’ll open those Christmas cards.

________________________________

Notes:
This post is a follow-up to a previous post about stigma and suicide. Stigma and disgrace have no place in a discussion about mental health, yet depression is still commonly viewed as a personal weakness. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a mental illness called dysthymia.

Dysthymia is a long-term chronic depression that lasts years and typically characterizes itself as low energy and drive, low self-esteem, and a low capacity for pleasure in everyday life. Dysthymia may result in people withdrawing from stress and avoiding opportunities for failure. In more severe cases of dysthymia, people may even withdraw from daily activities.[1]

Dysthymia often goes hand in hand with other mental illnesses. In my case, I also have periodic major depressive episodes that are thought to be triggered by extremely low serotonin levels in the winter.

*If you want to read about how the “detached, meaningless fog” of depression feels like owning dead fish, please read Hyperbole and a Half’s “Depression Part Two”. Allie Brosh has truly captured what living with depression can feel like. I’ve never read anything better.

[1] “Proposed Endophenotypes of Dysthymia: Evolutionary, Clinical, and Pharmacogenomic Considerations.” Niculescu, A.B. and Akiskal, H.S. (2001). Molecular Psychiatry 6 (4): 363–366.

Should’ve talked about this a long time ago…

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One day, when I was in my final year, I was swimming laps in the university pool. I paused to catch my breath at the end of a set.

“Did you hear about _________?” The lifeguard had strolled over for a chat. We’d gone to high school together.

“No.” I replied, willing him to go away. I only had an hour until my next class.

“He killed himself.”

I lost my breath again and had to be helped out of the water. Continue reading