Every time I hear about a suicide or attempted suicide I cringe. It’s hard to do an article about this subject. I know a little of what people who contemplate suicide may be feeling but I could never really know what the person is going through.
I remember one year when I pretty much suffered a nervous breakdown and dealt with a lot of depression. It was a time in my life when it seemed I was sliding down a deep dark pit and all the light was left at the top out of reach. No one knew what I was going through or what was happening to me. I had this face I turned to the world. It was the face they all knew. It was me before life became so hard that I was just going though the motions. I learnt to fake being me so to speak.
I thought a couple of times how easy it would be just to leave this life behind but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sometimes for no reason at all I would just cry but never in front of people. I hid my reality from those who cared.
Looking back it was a mistake. If I had opened up I would have had an easier time then figuring it out myself. I needed someone to talk to about how I was feeling.
It was fear that kept me talking. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, know how weak I felt or that I “was crazy” in some way.
I knew inside of me that they cared and if I were gone they would hurt. Perhaps knowing that I would be hurting others than myself is what kept me away from thinking about suicide and looking for reasons to go on. I was heavily depressed and depression can be one of the warning signs of suicidal behavior.
Suicide rates among Cree are about the same as the rest of Canada. So far Cree communities have been lucky in that they aren’t as high as some other First Nations communities. The suicide rate for women is about half of the national average and Crees males about the same. Rates among the Northwest Territories are several times the Cree in Quebec.
Even though these numbers may seem low, even one is too many to my way of thinking.
Not only do we lose someone that we love but the suicide itself causes emotional trauma and suffering that extends beyond the immediate family members to the community itself. It hurts far more than if the person had passed on for other reasons. It has long-term effects for the present and future generations.
In the communities we are seeing a lot of parasuicides. These are attempts to commit suicide. This is serious because people may die as a result of their attempt and usually the person doesn’t know how to talk about the inner problems or may need help in talking about unmet needs. During a ten-year study 8% of all hospitalizations for injuries were for parasuicides. Since many victims of parasuicide are never hospitalized there may be as many as 18 people needing help for everyone that ends up in a hospital. During the ten years studied there were 80 hospitalizations meaning there could have been as many as 1440 attempts.
We have to remember that people approach suicide with ambivalence. Ambivalence is when at the same time you have contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) towards an action. It is when you are uncertain as to which approach to follow. Suicidal People are like this. They want to relieve the suffering they feel but dying is the only means that the person can think to stop it. When you’re helping someone and they say they want to die they are approaching that stage. It may seem difficult to think we can help because they seem so convinced, but we need to offer other solutions.
I talked to someone who said, “I just happened to be there.” This person had talked another person out of a suicide attempt. “It was very important to me. I had just stopped drinking and was wondering how we can help and how do we go about it? I was shown I could help.
Although I was never shown what to do I found out I had did everything right by talking to the person and making a connection until they asked me to help them. It was then I convinced this person to come towards me so I could help the person. I felt the creator was on my side during this. I felt I wouldn’t have been able to handle it if I had still been drinking. I wouldn’t have been there.
When I got home I told my children I loved them a lot because it was hard to see another person suffering so much. There’s no heroism in what I did. It’s no joking matter. It affects your life and it really makes you aware of the world.”
Without training this person had made all the right moves. Concern was shown as well as an attempt to understand the unhappiness that led to the attempt. A climate of warmth, acceptance and trust was established. In all of us there is a strong desire to live.
The question is how do we recognize someone who may be suicidal? It is difficult as they can hide it well. Some of the symptoms might be sleeplessness, or oversleeping, loss of weight because of a loss of appetite, stopping the usual social activities, giving away of prized possessions, avoiding or withdrawing away from friends, lack of interest in personal appearance, crying spells, being self-critical, sudden moodswings, self-mutilation, aggressiveness and talking about death.
There are books out there to help people. One of them is “Step Back From the Exit: 45 reasons to Say No to Suicide” by J. Arena. It provides reasons why you shouldn’t think of suicide. I’ve summarized some of them and tried to put them in plain English for you.
1. It’s serious and when I consider my feelings seriously, others can too.
2. I need to look at the world less seriously and laugh at it more. I can laugh at things and I should find more to laugh at.
3. People like me the way I am. I don’t have to change unless I want to.
4. There are many experiences I have never had or could have and I want them.
5. I should get checked out. There may be a chemical imbalance that is making me think like this.
6. I may have a vitamin deficiency. I should get vitamins and have myself checked out at the CLSC.
7. I have trouble sleeping. Making sure someone couldn’t sleep is an old way to torture someone. If I haven’t had a restful night I shouldn’t make such important decisions.
8. I’m drinking too much. This lowers my inhibitions. This might let my suicidal tendencies to overwhelm and defeat me.
9. The world needs more, not fewer, people who of determination and courage who have faced death and said “not yet.” I will be one of them.
10. To think the world would be perfect or better off without me is ridiculous.
11. Perhaps I need to learn I can’t control everything that goes on in my life.
12. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone else and I might kill a would-be rescuer, innocent bystander, friend or family member in my attempt.
13. Funerals are expensive. On top of the grief I will be causing I will cause financial hardship.
14. Suicide implies I know everything but I’m not the Creator so I don’t.
15. Committing suicide is a sin and Hell might even be worse than this.
16. Suicide is just bad manners. It’s dropping in on the Creator without an invitation.
17. Other choices exist, including making no choice at all.
18. I might end up a ghost in limbo and have no way to change it.
19. Those who have near death experiences after suicide attempts report regret for what they did and a renewed commitment to life. I should talk with them.
20. If there is reincarnation I might come back and suffer this again.
I should learn from this so it doesn’t happen again.
21. Whether I like it or not I am a role model, discouraging and encouraging others by my behavior,
22. Children, spouse, brothers, sisters and family all need me in some way.
23. Suicide disturbs even casual acquaintances. How will affect those closer to me? It will hurt more.
24. Suicide denies me the opportunity to find out how much love there is in the world and how much there is in me.
25. What if I don’t die and severely disable myself instead?
26. What if I die when I only meant to cry for help?
27. Even a court would not say I deserved capital punishment for my actions.
28. If someone else is acting in a bad or abusive way to me it shouldn’t mean I should have to die for it.
29. There may not be hope right now but something magical or miraculous might happen any minute. Life itself is a miracle.
30. The highest priority is survival, not the overwhelming facts of life.
31. Sometimes what I do to make me feel better makes me feel worse. I have to recognize my emotions aren’t always my best friend.
32. Although my life looks worthless right now, I am curious to discover its true worth.
33. There is meaning in my suffering and I want to find that meaning.
34. Suicide is a lie and a cover-up for the pain in my life. I want to find the truth of my life.
Not all of those reasons will apply to a specific person and there are some I’ve left out.
In any case I hope that anyone out there will know that you can discuss problems with people and people can listen and help. If you do not feel you can talk to anyone in your community there are some phone numbers you can try. The people on the other end are usually volunteers who want to help just as much as you are asking for help. No more and no less. One person I talked to said the most disappointing thing they felt was when someone would phone and just hang up. Remember there are a limited number of people on duty. If you do not wish to leave your phone number so they can call you back, then call back yourself until you get a live operator. Do not be afraid to call anywhere, even out of province.
For the Eastern James Bay region
Centre de prevention de suicide for Saguenay: 1-800-463-9869 or 1-418-545-1919 (24 hours a day, seven days a week, French language only)
Suicide-Action Montreal: 1-514-723-400 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) (French/80% time English operator)
Tel Aide Outaouais: 1-800-567-9699 or 1-613-741-6433 (French) Centre d’aide 24/7:1-819-895-9999 (French)
Ottawa 1-613-238-3311 (English)
For central and western James Bay (all operators speak English)
Distress Center 1-613-238-3311
Distress Center 416-598-1121
Distress Center 416-486-1456
Distress Center 519-821-3760
Distress Center 519-256-5000
In the Cree communities you can walk into the clinic and talk to a doctor, nurse, social worker or psychologist. These talks are all confidential. A psychologist visits the communities 4-5 times a year.
In Quebec, except for Suicide-Action Montreal, only French services are funded for suicide crisis lines. In Ontario no funding exists for toll free numbers. Most suicide prevention centres are staffed by volunteers and fundraise their own operating budgets. Suicide Prevention Hotlines do not mind if you are not in the area that they normally serve.
In the Cree communities nine out of ten people who committed suicide were male. Five out of the ten were males between the ages of 25 to 39 years old. Forty per cent of parasuicides were male while sixty per cent were women. 77% of the males and 47% of the women were reported to be drunk when the incidents occurred.
Parasuisides or attempts are extremely rare in the bush.
An alarming fact is that incidents involving young Crees and firearms are on the rise. A Cree Health Board study recommended that safe storage of firearms in the communities be implemented and followed out.
I wish to thank all those who helped out in this article: Myra from the Suicide Information and Education Center (403-245-3900), Suicide-Action Montreal’s Lynda Peers, Dr. Elizabeth Robinson of the Cree Health Board and other health representatives, the people who came forward with their experiences but wished anonymity and the Creator for the strength to write this article.
I wish to say one final thing; no human being is ever really alone, it’s just a matter of reaching out to someone. You will find your burden is shared and weighs less than before because of that. All problems can be surmounted with assistance but it is necessary that you seek that assistance. At some point in time if you have a problem you may have to seek professional help. There is nothing to be ashamed of in doing this. I know many people who have and have become better people because of it. I wish you well on the paths you have chosen in life.