Suicide is personal to me. My own story, of a teenage anxiety disorder that blossomed into clinical depression, taught me much about how sufferers can hide their pain.
My anxiety disorder, then depression, was with me for years. It was along for the ride as I finished college, got married, helped raise three kids and also forge a fine career with The Edmonton Journal.
No one knew the gist of my inner life; the relentless, looping, self loathing and fearful thoughts.
Was I ever suicidal? I certainly thought about taking my own life, though I wouldn’t have put it in those terms.
To me, suicide was a backup plan … a fallback position. If the poison coursing through my mind and body got worse, or never got better, I could always opt out.
I got lucky. The right therapist, on the right day, asked me the right question and I sobbed out a confession of how bad things were.
I responded well to anti-depressant medication and started a journey of therapy, healing and self improvement.
And I quit drinking. That was really important. Alcohol is an easy and enticing medication, which robs the person of opportunity to grow into their potential.
And alcohol is a depressant. It offers temporary relief from problems it then exacerbates.
After I began to feel much better, I wrote about my mental health journey in a big spread in The Edmonton Journal. It’s accurate to say my work colleagues were stunned.
One of my co-workers said that she always thought I was one of most put-together, calmest people she’d ever met. Ha. I shoulda won an Oscar.
Many, if not most, people left behind after a suicide blame themselves in one way or another. I’m telling you that you were dealing with master thespians, who developed their expertise over years. They duped you.
Sufferers learn to split themselves off from the world, hide inside. They are tragically self-absorbed and self-obsessed with their dark thoughts and self loathing.
They are hiding to protect themselves and the world from the big, ugly secrets of their inner life.
This is, of course, counter productive. Relief and recovery depend on giving up the fight and asking someone for help.
I surrendered, finally. I asked for help. I turned control over to doctors and others — even to my employers — who rallied to my side.
I’m biased. But I think asking for help is the most vulnerable and courageous thing anyone can do, especially when they suffer a mental illness.
Yet that’s putting all the responsibility on the person who is struggling to hang on — who is often very ill and suffering from a loss of perspective and hope.
We all share in the responsibility to reduce the barriers to make it easier for a sufferer to get help.
People rallied to my side, when I needed them. But I know I was lucky.
What we need is a culture shift. We need communities that understand; that reject the shame and stigma of mental illness and treat it appropriately, as just part of the human condition.

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