By Dr David Laing Dawson
This week, after the suicides of three Ontario Provincial Police officers a heartfelt plea went out from the president of the Union. He implored officers who were suffering to seek help, to talk with someone.
A similar heartfelt message was re posted by my daughter after she learned an old friend had committed suicide.
Broadly, over the last many years, we have seen many “Let’s talk about it” public campaigns.
But over those same years the numbers of completed suicides have gradually increased while the numbers of people taken to the emergency departments for assessment of “suicide ideation” have dramatically increased.
What are we missing?
I think it is this: Most suicides are the product of severe depression. Not all, but most. And often complicated by loss, drugs, alcohol, pain, anxiety, poverty, PTSD, bullying. But still, usually, a state of depression.
And depression, medical depression, is not simply a mood disorder. It is a cognitive disorder as well. Let me explain.
Normally, when we are healthy, our consciousness includes much more than ourselves. Besides being aware of ourselves and our inner state we are aware of (conscious of) our surroundings, the task at hand, our loved ones, our extended family, our colleagues, our friends, our fellow travelers, the citizens of our community, of our country, and, sometimes, far beyond that. All of these things and people float in and out of our consciousness through the waking hours, and may visit us as an eternal puzzle in our dreams.
I assume that awareness, the breadth of that awareness, varies from person to person. For most of us it does not that often go beyond friends, workmates and family, fellow travelers, until we watch the news. Still, it always stretches beyond ourselves.
Not in a severe depression. In a medical depression, the illness depression, our consciousness shrivels. That floating awareness of all around us closes in. We, when suffering from a depression, lose our awareness of others. They simply fall away from our consciousness.
Hence asking a severely depressed person to reach out to others is akin to asking a paralyzed man to walk to the nearest emergency.
The public anti suicide programs and initiatives may even be making the problem worse. They reduce this mental health problem to a dichotomy: thinking about suicide or not thinking about suicide, held in hospital or not held in hospital.
Certainly the statistics tell us the current public initiatives are not working. Not working.
A far better approach would be to talk about depression. Recognizing it in ourselves and others, and helping those others seek treatment. We do have effective treatment for depression.