I’m still kind of reeling from news I received this morning, so forgive me if I ramble a bit.
I found out this morning that a former co-worker took his own life. He was one of the kindest people I had ever met, and one of the happiest – or so I thought, I guess. I won’t go any further into details here in a pubic forum, although I have many very sad, and very angry thoughts about the situation. He had three children and a wife that he loved, and he had recently become a first-time grandfather.
He was the last person I would have expected this from.
And there’s the rub: like Robin Williams last year, it’s a lesson for me that you cannot judge what’s in a person’s mind and heart by what you see on the outside. Just because a person smiles on the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t crying out for help on the inside.
So then what do we do? How do you help someone when you don’t even know that they need it?
First of all, we need to fight for better access to mental health services. Did you know that in my province, Ontario, only psychiatric services are covered under OHIP (our universal health care service)? Right now, you have to get a referral from your family doctor, and then wait – possibly for months – for a referral. And if your case isn’t severe enough, the overworked psychiatrist to whom you are referred may not even take you on as a patient.
So many more people could be helped by funding psychology and registered counseling services. Even the best employer benefit plans only pay for a few sessions with a psychologist per year, and for many people it is simply impossible to pay out of pocket for these services. Many psychology services do offer a sliding scale payment system based on income, but many people wouldn’t know about this, and besides, if you’re already struggling with depression you may not be in any state to face dealing with financial questions and paperwork to prove that you can’t afford to pay the whole fee.
Every once in a while, an event happens in the news, or a social media hashtag appears which gets people talking about access to mental health services. But then everyone moves on, and nothing changes. It’s great when the conversation begins, but WE CAN’T STOP TALKING.
And in the meantime, if there’s one thing you can do it’s to be open and caring. Don’t be afraid to tell your family and friends that you love them, and that they matter to you. Don’t be afraid to give someone a hug. Don’t be afraid to tell someone that the world is a better place because THEY ARE HERE. Maybe they’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Maybe they’ll seem like they don’t care. And maybe they don’t.
But maybe they do. Maybe your words of kindness and love are going to give that person the strength to keep fighting. Maybe your hug is the first physical contact that person has had in a very long time. Maybe somehow, by offering love, you will be able to transfer strength to a person who desperately needs it.
Last winter, a high school classmate of mine lost her husband in an accident. Since then, the “One for James” movement has spread around the world, with people buying coffee for strangers, and doing other small acts of kindness in his name. It’s been incredible to see. If there’s one thing that I can do for my coworker, it’s to encourage people to give love and support to those around them.
And one other thing…
Please, if you take nothing else from this, just remember: DEPRESSION LIES. You matter. You are loved. You make a difference.
Rest in peace, my friend. I am so very sorry.