How the Canadian healthcare system fails suicide attempt survivors

Check out my latest article in the July/August 2018 issue of This Magazine!

“For more than half my life, someone has been trying to kill me.

That someone is me.

The first time I considered ending my life, I was eight or nine years old, living in a rented house with my father and brother in Owen Sound, Ont. My mother had moved out years earlier, after my father tried to stab her; he had started directing his misogyny at me instead. We had just watched The Towering Inferno, an early-1970s drama about a fire in a skyscraper. My brother described how he would climb balconies and elevator shafts to safety, and I thought: I’d just jump.

I knew I shouldn’t say it out loud, that the thought was somehow shameful, but it seemed clear to me that there are better and worse ways to die. I couldn’t see a good answer to the question, “Why not?”

Karen Letofsky, board president at the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), was not surprised to hear this. “There is a lot of social ambiguity around suicide,” she says. Much of what we think we know about suicide is based on social mythology, which creates barriers to the honest conversations Letofsky says people who attempt suicide need to have.

Yvonne Bergmans also emphasizes the importance of talking about suicidal thoughts. Bergmans is a CASP board member and suicide intervention consultant at the University of Toronto’s Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide and Depression Studies Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She says suicide attempts and suicidal ideations speak to a “great, deep pain: that hurt where there’s a story being written about ‘I can’t survive this’ or ‘I need to end this.’”

In our discussions about suicide, both women say our country’s mental health system is under-resourced and prioritizes crisis over long-term support. Its uneven structure leaves it poorly equipped to help survivors do what we most need to: articulate and understand the stories behind our suicide attempts. And those stories matter—hearing them helps demythologize suicide, so we can understand and address it as a social problem.”

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