Leila Khan
Monday, December 26, 2022
The holidays are always a time of self-reflection for me.  Once again, this year, I have had to face the results of mental illness playing out in the death of a celebrity—tWitch Stephen Boss.
In previous years, around the holiday season, I was faced with the news of the sudden death of; my sister’s boyfriend, a work colleague, a close friend, my son’s friend, a relative.  I have lost people close to me that have been in my inner circle, to an indistinguishable disease which has no ‘face.’ What does a person look like that is suffering from mental illness?   On the outside, they appear to be normal—or even happy—smiling, enjoying life.  Robin Williams once said,
      "I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy.”  Mental illness affects so many people that it's no surprise that celebrities from both past eras and current culture have struggled with it. Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Curt Cobain, Naomi Judd, Chris Cornell- are a few famous celebrities that have landed victim to this horrible and often misunderstood illness.
What makes this situation extremely difficult to understand is that on the surface, things seem to look relatively normal.  It’s almost impossible to tell what a person is going through.  They may be experiencing feelings of hopelessness and despair all whilst suffering in silence.  There may not be any warning signs at all.  Some kind words, a smile, a token of appreciation maybe all that they need to help them get through the day.
What remains unanswered are the possible underlying reasons that may be the impetus for a person willfully taking their own life. There may be a multitude of factors working together, ranging from family history, to the environment, traumatic life experiences, personality and physical health problems.  Often times, there are many questions that remain unanswered.
From a Psychological standpoint, one of the main reasons behind suicide stems from mental illness which can also be called a psychiatric disorder.  The most common form of mental illness is depression.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Depression… is a mood disorder that will affect one in eight Canadians at some point in their lives. It changes the way people feel, leaving them with mental and physical symptoms for long periods of time.”  These symptoms may vary from person to person.  Mental health is very misunderstood and in fact feared by many people.  The way to overcome this challenge is to have open dialogue and try to clear the air and stigma associated with depression. 
According to Statistics Canada, at the beginning of the second year of the pandemic, “the prevalence of recent suicidal ideation in Canada was higher than it had been before the pandemic in 2019.”  The pandemic created the perfect ‘breeding grounds’ for adolescents, adults and children to have to isolate and quarantine due to the pending fear of harmful spread of the virus.  This isolation may have contributed to depression and subsequent higher rate of suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
As mental illness is difficult to detect, there are some signs or patterns of behaviour which may suggest that a person is at risk of harm to themselves. Some signs or behaviours to look out for include:
-increased isolation away from friends, family and usual activities
-general feeling of hopelessness where one may have a bleak outlook on life
-mood changes experiencing feelings of anger, anxiety and sadness
-feeling trapped in a situation with no way out
-loss of appetite, fatigue and insomnia
-expressing remorse about being a burden on someone
-turning to stimulants like alcohol, drugs or inhalants

What can we do as contributing members of society to help this cause….to raise awareness and to make a change.  This topic is rarely spoken about.  Dealing with depression and other related disorders is quite challenging.  People suffering from depression often times, blame themselves and feel shame in reaching out for help.  They fear being ‘judged’ and preoccupy themselves with what others will think about them if they were to seek help.  In fact, approximately 50 percent of those who suffer from depression, do not seek treatment.  Depression, if left untreated, makes the day-to-day living appear impossible.

The more light we can shed on the subject of Depression, the more barriers we can remove from understanding it and offer help and support for anyone suffering.  A comforting fact is that people can and do recover from this illness. Help is available and can be any or a combination of the following:  counselling and support groups, medication, relapse prevention and electroconvulsive therapy.  What we can all do is to start a dialogue around the subject of mental illness and depression. We need to let those people know suffering from depression that by sharing their experiences and reaching out for support, they can connect with people that understand and can help with what they are going through.  This may prevent one less person from believing that there is no way out and perhaps stopping them from doing the unthinkable—taking their own life.

Talk Suicide Canada: 1.833.456.4566
Canadian Mental Health Association: 1.866.345.0183
If in a crisis, please call 310-COPE (2673) or 911
Please donate to the Canadian Mental Health Association

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