As I think about the suicides on PEI this fall, my heart breaks for those families. I lost a dear uncle this way and it was devastating for all, especially my grandparents (his parents). My uncle battled bi-polar disorder (a serious form of depression) from a young age, which eventually led to his taking his own life. My family knows all too well the seriousness of mental illness, especially when left untreated, undertreated or during times of transition, such as when changing medications.
You can imagine our fear when our teenage son was diagnosed with depression a few years after my uncle’s death. To make matters even worse, not only did he have the same illness that robbed my uncle of his life, he was also now addicted to prescription drugs. Like many others with untreated mental illness, he had been self-medicating with drugs to escape that feeling of being in a deep, dark hole. This addiction would set him on a path of self-destruction that would span four years and rob him of his youth.
For Mike and me, we lived in constant fear that our son would die from drug use, murder or suicide. Would his drug use or his depression take him first? A knock on the door made my heart stop. Was it the police telling us that our son was dead? A ringing phone rattled my nerves. Was our son injured at the hospital or in jail?
During these difficult years, we had many sad reminders of how serious both mental illness and addictions were as young people we knew (or knew of through friends and family) began to take their own lives. Some had both conditions while others only had one. I attended the funeral for one of these young people and it nearly killed me. It was not only because the person was so young, so beautiful, and so incredibly loved (these are the things that make it so hard for everybody), but also because our son was going through a really hard time during this period and I knew he could be next. I cried as much for that dear person and that family as I did for my own son and our family.
I’ve had our son’s funeral planned in my head since that diagnosis of depression (and addiction). I could see it play out during the funeral I was attending. It was very, very hard. I knew that I had to figure out how I was going to live with the reality that our son could die and I was powerless over it. I found the support that I needed and it set me on my current path of advocating for Islanders battling mental health and addiction issues and their families.
Dealing with a loved one’s mental illness and/or addiction is very hard. Not only are you deeply concerned for their well-being and safety, but they may be reluctant to talk about their illness or seek help because of the stigma associated with it. We can stop the stigma by learning more about these illnesses and being supportive of our fellow Islanders, just as we would if they had any other type of illness. We can be the change that will save lives.
I dedicate this blog post to my Uncle Roy who was truly one of a kind, and to the beautiful young person mentioned above. I also dedicate it to the many individuals (and their families) who have lost their lives to suicide, addiction, or some other tragedy as well as to those individuals (and their families) who are still alive, but lost to the disease of addiction. God bless you all.