By Lynn Keane
We lost our son to suicide in 2009. He had left our home in the morning to go up to our cottage and was expected back for dinner. He never made it home. Daniel had spent his last day talking to friends. Talking to his dad. And talking to me about what we’d have for dinner. He was in the fight of his life, but none of us knew it. The next day we would learn that our son had taken his life at our cottage.
In the days that followed our son’s suicide we functioned, but barely. Carrying out our duties in a desperate effort to honor our son’s life. We went north to our cottage to perform a Smudge Ceremony, which is said to purify the mind, body and spirit. Our first step toward healing, but it all began to feel so futile. No matter what we did, nothing was going to change our reality.
When my husband went back to work and our girls went back to school I decided to go in search of answers. I needed to understand my son’s emotional and physical pain. I needed to understand the contributing factors in his depression and suicide.
On National Suicide Awareness Day in 2009 (as it was called then) my essay, Mourning our two Daniels was published in the Globe and Mail. In the essay I recounted the aftermath of our son’s suicide and reflected on our new life without Daniel.
Sharing knowledge and resources for suicide prevention:
As a survivor of suicide I feel that it is our time to lead the conversation around suicide prevention. Those of us who have been impacted by suicide have an intimate understanding of the contributing factors in mental illness and suicide. We have information we need to share. We hope that even a small part of our experience will be of value to someone else. The caveat being that the survivor is in a place, both emotionally and physically, to share their story.
In the days leading up to World Suicide Prevention Day (#WSPD14) I created a social media campaign to honour loved ones lost to suicide and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. On September 10, 2014 #raiseHOPE took flight and many people on social media reached out to share their own personal stories. We know we are not alone.
With our collective knowledge and experiences survivors of suicide can lead the conversation on suicide prevention. We can impact the vocabulary used when reporting on suicide. We can imagine the aftermath. Publicizing graphic details about suicide further traumatizes those left behind.
In 2009 our family had no understanding that our 23-year-old son was living with depression. His disease left him unable to concentrate and the self-loathing, crippling. Five years ago we did not talk about depression and disorders of the brain, much less suicide. Today, we generally accept that mental illness is a disease and not a flaw in one’s character. We now have important discussions with our kids about the pressures they will face at university, college and life. We are more aware of the multitude of factors in depression and acknowledge that there is never one reason in suicide. Many of us who have experienced a loss by suicide work everyday trying to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
#WSPD14 is not just a tweet-able acronym but a day set aside to recognize a growing movement of people willing to be the change. Schools are advocating for mental health literacy in their curriculum. Celebrities are speaking out about their experiences. Mental health organizations, government agencies and corporations are combining their social currency and resources in support of mental health awareness. We hope the upside of this awareness is that people will seek support, and will feel less stigmatized to share their disease.
Here’s how you can participate in #raiseHOPE:
1. On large white card, a chalkboard or whiteboard, share something your loved one did to inspire you. 2. On a second card finish this sentence: “Through my lived experience I now understand…” This knowledge will help educate others about Suicide Prevention. 3. Tape the cards one above the other and take a photo. See my example: I chose to tape them to a tree beside the water. 4. Share your photo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #raiseHope. Retweet and Like other raiseHOPE photos. All photos submitted with #raiseHOPE will be collated and posted with the link being shared on social media.
Let’s work together to:
- End the stigma around mental illness
- Educate about suicide prevention
About the Author
Launching the campaign is mother, author and mental health advocate, Lynn Keane, who lost her son Daniel to suicide. Keane says, “The world’s attention is focused on suicide as a result of the tragic death of Robin Williams, and the often-graphic reporting that accompanied it. Those of us with first-hand experience of suicide have an opportunity to lead the conversation and raise awareness for suicide prevention while paying homage to our loved ones.”
The initiative has already received accolades on Twitter from CASP and Mood Disorders Canada. Support continues throughout the world. Chris Brown of Grassroots Suicide Prevention said, “Through lived experience we can learn profound lessons about suicide and its prevention. Grassroots Suicide Prevention is proud to support #raiseHOPE as it is vital that people with lived experience have a voice with which to raise awareness and help prevent suicide.” Such a message is essential: suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadian youth – the third highest rate in the industrialized world. Depression is forecast to be the second leading cause of disability by 2020. Less than a quarter of children affected by mental health problems will have access to the services they need.