Suicide is not cowardice. Listen!

Photo credit: Heather Pollock

is a Juno Award winning singer-songwriter from St. John's, Newfoundland. Amelia has toured extensively throughout North America, the UK, Europe and Australia.

I used to think suicide was cowardly. I was angry with my friends who committed such an act. I avoided those who had tried to end their lives but lived. Then in 2004, with the death of my friend and roommate RM, I obediently cut her obituary out of the paper to put with the rest and discovered some were missing and that I had lost count of my dead friends.

I had lost count. I was twenty-six at the time and I had lost count. I was living through a plague that was taking people from me and I had not bothered to notice.

I was a teenager through the 1990’s and there was something cool and untouchable about being troubled.  A struggle with depression was a badge.  An unsuccessful suicide attempt got you a medal.  We were attention seeking and trying to outdo one another I thought.  I was wrong.  The mental illnesses in those around me were rearing their awful heads and while some of my peers struggled to live, I was trying to be cool, grifting the unruly attention of boys by diving into a fabricated darkness and hurt.  Looking back, I was a bit of an insult as a teenager.

So this was the scene.  We knew how to talk about depression but we didn’t know what to do with it.  We learned to drink and kiss and smoke weed and hash and drop into fits of giggles and I thought we liked being depressed.

How humiliating for me when the mood disorders and anxiety hit in my late twenties.

I was quick to come to terms with the certain knowledge that I was dying of cancer.  I vomited daily.  I only left the house to get cigarettes and movies and if I was out of the house for more than two hours, I vomited in the bushes in the race to get back home.  I considered the sadness of my family when my body would be discovered.  I stopped locking my apartment door in case I passed away in the night.  Eight months went by like that.  I turned grey and thin and I shivered constantly.

I had a friend who was living with manic depression. (It was called that at the time.  It is now known as bipolar disease.)  “You have anxiety”, she said to me.  And I said, “Oh”.  I went to a general practitioner in the neighborhood and said “I have anxiety” and she said “Okay”.  That doctor saved my life because she did not hesitate.

But RM was told to grow up.  The quote from the ER doctor is this: “This young lady is requesting a magic answer for her poor mood and difficulty concentrating”.  The magic answer that she finally found was to jump in a lake and drown to death.

In the weeks that followed, I took several calls from local counseling, therapy, and psychiatric clinics.  I told them I would give my roommate the message - they were finally able to return her call and could she call again at her earliest convenience.  I pretended to write these things down and politely ended the calls.  I didn’t want the receptionists on the other end to be embarrassed that they were looking for a dead girl, and they were too late.  But nor did I offer her what she eventually tried to get from the yellow pages.  I, and the system, failed her.

I learned that suicide is not cowardice.  It is the final and fatal symptom of a mental illness that goes undiagnosed and untreated.

That is why I had to make . Having been too sad and tired most of my adult life to do anything at all has turned on its head and now I am too sad and too tired to do nothing.

Listen.

Our youth are still living in this plague and we have left them alone with it and it is taking them from us. We are dismissing people as dramatic and attention seeking. We are telling them they are wrong about themselves and they are believing us.

I offer you this. If you really think an individual simply needs to grow up, wouldn’t it be wiser to offer them the treatment they seek – to be certain they have the chance to grow up at all? Isn’t it better to be wrong on the side of the living than to be sorry for the dead?

With thanks to of .

Editors' note: Please if you are thinking about suicide or would like to seek help on behalf of another person