I’m going to delve into that topic that no one wants to talk about: suicide. It seems strange to me that one of the leading causes of death for young people is kept so far away from our eyes and ears. There may be a lot of ‘sensational’ coverage of suicide, but maybe it’s not touching on the right issues. Is this done to show respect to the family of the deceased? Maybe the media at large doesn’t feel that suicide is a ‘good news story’. Or maybe- and this is a stretch considering what we are exposed to by the media- people can’t handle the news of someone who had enough suffering and chose to end their life. But if this is the case, how are we showing any respect to those who have taken their lives if we are ignoring their struggle only to let it happen over and over again?
Whether our mainstream media will admit it or not, suicide is a real problem that needs attention. The Queen’s Journal (April 1, 2010) has taken the subject on after a student took his own life and I commend them for that. The article discussed the availability of mental health supports on campus and what the community can do to stop it from happening again. It is a good start, but more still needs to be done.
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was an early sociologist. He talked about something called ‘anomie’ which is when a society’s people do not feel a part of the whole. Tensions rise and what results are people ‘dropping out’ of the mainstream society. This is one contributing factor of mental illness, violence, drug use, suicide, and an overall lack of concern for one another, according to Durkheim.
This is what happened in the 60’s and what resulted was a massive counterculture of drugs, music, art, and fashion. In that sense, the anomie brought about an alternative sense of cohesion. But what about when people ‘drop out’ of a society or economic system and are overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness and helplessness tied in with their very real struggle with depression or other mental illness? Not as revolutionary to say the least. They feel alienated from the system around them. And to make matters worse, they must deal with the stigma that hangs around mental illness. Since there may not be a very accessible source of mental health support for them, they may utilize the coping that they know: violence, drugs or alcohol, self harm, suicide. This is the worst-case scenario, of course, but a very realistic one as well.
I’m not going to pretend that I know why people commit suicide. There are more factors contributing towards it in any one situation that would be too hard to describe here. My aim is to simply say that instead of ignoring it, or even worse- pretending that mental illness is a weakness that needs only to be dealt with within the medical model scheme (diagnose and treat)- we need to discuss suicide and mental illness without the barriers of stigma and ‘politeness’.
My aim is to share the idea- and you can take it as you like- that mental illness is a systematic problem. What I mean by that is that perhaps those people with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. are having a very human, very natural reaction to a fucked up community- one with impersonal city streets, housing crises, an unrealistic focus on monetary status, dirty, unregulated street drugs, pill popping solutions, hospital waiting times, and a lack of cohesive social bonds. The list goes on and on. Perhaps this angle to mental health is backwards; we are trying to integrate people back into the system that may have stressed them out of their minds in the first place. Instead, maybe we should consider the fact that people react this way because we aren’t focusing enough on community support. Maybe there is a way to target the lack of perceived options and lack of public awareness with regards to mental illness. Maybe this can open up a discourse that will build towards a proactive approach to mental health.
We need to start hearing people’s stories of mental illness and addiction to know their struggles and end the stigma that our media perpetuates. We need to educate society as a whole about coping with stress, dealing with substance abuse, and having a good support and coping system. This could help families and friends recognize early warning signs of mental illness. It may help us to once again have a vested interest in one another. Realizing that mental health is on a continuum and that it affects each and every one of us may help us feel a bit of a social bond- one that may keep us attuned with the actual factors contributing to the collective social problems. Considering these may be a move towards at least talking about it, which I think would be a good first step.