Amelia Curran is a Juno Award winning singer-songwriter from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Amelia has toured extensively throughout North America, the UK, Europe and Australia.
I used to think suicide was cowardly. I was angry with my friends who committed such an act. I avoided those who had tried to end their lives but lived. Then in 2004, with the death of my friend and roommate RM, I obediently cut her obituary out of the paper to put with the rest and discovered some were missing and that I had lost count of my dead friends.
I had lost count. I was twenty-six at the time and I had lost count. I was living through a plague that was taking people from me and I had not bothered to notice.
I was a teenager through the 1990’s and there was something cool and untouchable about being troubled. A struggle with depression was a badge. An unsuccessful suicide attempt got you a medal. We were attention seeking and trying to outdo one another I thought. I was wrong. The mental illnesses in those around me were rearing their awful heads and while some of my peers struggled to live, I was trying to be cool, grifting the unruly attention of boys by diving into a fabricated darkness and hurt. Looking back, I was a bit of an insult as a teenager.
So this was the scene. We knew how to talk about depression but we didn’t know what to do with it. We learned to drink and kiss and smoke weed and hash and drop into fits of giggles and I thought we liked being depressed.
How humiliating for me when the mood disorders and anxiety hit in my late twenties.
I was quick to come to terms with the certain knowledge that I was dying of cancer. I vomited daily. I only left the house to get cigarettes and movies and if I was out of the house for more than two hours, I vomited in the bushes in the race to get back home. I considered the sadness of my family when my body would be discovered. I stopped locking my apartment door in case I passed away in the night. Eight months went by like that. I turned grey and thin and I shivered constantly.
I had a friend who was living with manic depression. (It was called that at the time. It is now known as bipolar disease.) “You have anxiety”, she said to me. And I said, “Oh”. I went to a general practitioner in the neighborhood and said “I have anxiety” and she said “Okay”. That doctor saved my life because she did not hesitate.
But RM was told to grow up. The quote from the ER doctor is this: “This young lady is requesting a magic answer for her poor mood and difficulty concentrating”. The magic answer that she finally found was to jump in a lake and drown to death.
In the weeks that followed, I took several calls from local counseling, therapy, and psychiatric clinics. I told them I would give my roommate the message – they were finally able to return her call and could she call again at her earliest convenience. I pretended to write these things down and politely ended the calls. I didn’t want the receptionists on the other end to be embarrassed that they were looking for a dead girl, and they were too late. But nor did I offer her what she eventually tried to get from the yellow pages. I, and the system, failed her.
I learned that suicide is not cowardice. It is the final and fatal symptom of a mental illness that goes undiagnosed and untreated.
That is why I had to make this video. Having been too sad and tired most of my adult life to do anything at all has turned on its head and now I am too sad and too tired to do nothing.
Our youth are still living in this plague and we have left them alone with it and it is taking them from us. We are dismissing people as dramatic and attention seeking. We are telling them they are wrong about themselves and they are believing us.
I offer you this. If you really think an individual simply needs to grow up, wouldn’t it be wiser to offer them the treatment they seek – to be certain they have the chance to grow up at all? Isn’t it better to be wrong on the side of the living than to be sorry for the dead?
With thanks to Roger Maunder of Up Sky Down Films.
Editors’ note: Please reach out if you are thinking about suicide or would like to seek help on behalf of another person
Thanks for this moving piece Amelia and thank you readers for the thread that follows.
It’s a good sign that this is being supported by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. There is still so much more CMAJ can be doing. Historically, the journal has focused on symptom suppression rather than on healing and addressing the core environmental drivers of mental illness. It has avoided the Complex PTSD diagnosis, despite the fact that most in-patients and most of the most stigmatized sufferers of mental illness suffer from Complex Trauma/Developmental Trauma, something that only a few brave souls are willing to study.
By shifting focus away from an over-emphasis on manualized therapies and medications, CMAJ has an opportunity to support the move to humanistic mindbody therapies that address attachment injury, trauma and the complexity of being human, in addition to the neurophysiologic factors in mental illness.
The CMAJ has a duty to support findings gleaned from epigenetics, trauma neurobiology, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and to increase its focus on the social and economic drivers of our mental illness epidemic.
Our country can benefit from the universal adoption of trauma-informed service delivery and a mental health care approach that is holistic and integrative. By embracing this approach, rather than maintaining a narrow focus on symptom management, we have a chance to lower our burden of suffering, violence, ruined and hopeless lives and the tragedy of suicide.
I’ve lost my grampa( at 81) due to his desire to end a life he no longer wanted, my Dad, due to alcoholism. My cousins, one due to a terminal illness, and one due to mental health, and possibly my brother( due to a series of concussions) we will never know for sure with him.
It’s left me with a desire to help them if you can, in any way, but the fact is, we won’t always know…..Suicide, is in my eyes, a form of control.
For all of us who are left with the loss of our loved ones, live for them, as best you can, and help out those who are willing to receive it.
That’s all you can do…….
you just don’t all get it , really
I cried. I am so thankful for this. My son has been recovering for the last 16 months from a horrid suicide attempt. His mental illness is finally being recognized AND treated.
Let’s not split hairs here over this wonderful message. The point is that mental illness is a disease and suicide is too often the response (yes, once is one too many times). Suicide is not cowardice, it is a sign of a problem gone too far for too long.
For those of you who feel that thia article promotes suicide, you’ve obviously overlooked the last word in the title. It maybe subtle compared to the words before it, but it is the most important: “listen!”
how or where do you get help for a loved one who is spiraling …loosing grip on her life..and she does’nt even seem to know that she is the one with the problem…it’s the world is against me kind of thing….how do i help?????????????????????? Where do I go?????????
Please support our request for an inquest in our 12 year old son’s suicide. The only way to make the changes is to expose the flaws and then we can save lives- Chazz Petrella
I hope you will stay with us and wait for things to change, as they always do, with age and circumstance. Your condition will improve with time. I am thinking of you and wishing you all good things.
I just have to say, I’m a hair away from killing myself, and all my problems were caused primary by the very system that was supposed to help me. I will never take another pill, or see another doctor who is “there to help”.
MSBS, it does not have to be from a medical professional, but please do seek help from someone if you are or have made a plan to end your life.
I will never know if it was bravery on my son’s part to take his life. I do know it wasn’t cowardice. How can you play cribbage one day with a person ,only to hear the next morning they took thrir life.
I am terribly sorry for your loss. It is entirely inconceivable to know why. If we did know, we would be in that same place.
Trumpeting suicide as being ‘not cowardice’ is probably sending the wrong message. By doing so, you are possibly inferring that suicide is, in fact, ‘bravery.’ Perhaps a wrong choice of words. I have lost friends to suicide and, to my mind, the act is nether cowardice nor bravery, but a complete obliteration of the self brought about by excruciating, unbearable psychological pain.
I disagree. It does take bravery to commit suicide, just as it takes bravery to get out of bed all the days on the way to reaching the decision that this will be the best way to deal with it, for oneself and probably also one’s loved ones. It takes courage to face death, and maybe a step to helping people who have survived a suicide attempt is neither to see them as cowards, nor as victims of illness, but as brave souls — so brave that they can, in fact, reach deeper into that well of courage and fight for life, though perhaps their bravery has exhausted them for now and they should rest for a while before thinking about the fight again.
Yes. I understand, but stating that ‘suicide is not cowardice’ has a hint of ‘step up to the plate’ challenge to it. I don’t think it’s constructive to softly condone suicide, but to try to help the pain and prevent suicide from happening. My point was: Suicide is neither a cowardly nor a brave act. You do not want to imply that there is bravery in suicide. That is not helping. We need to deal with the pain and try to soothe it.
Suicide is the product of pain, and the words cowardice and bravery share no common ground with the act.
Mary A. Walsh
I agree with the statement that it is “a complete obliteration of the self brought about by excruciating, unbearable psychological pain.” This is what I feel happened to my daughter, who took her own life at age 25 after many years of suffering this pain.
I agree, it is not cowardice and it is not bravery. It is exactly what you stated. And end to the excruciating, unbearable, psychological and physical agony. I also disagree about it not being genetic. There is often a genetic component as well as a situational. Our family calls it the family curse because so many of us suffer from some form of mental illness.
I like many have suffered from. This monstrous illness took away a career, broke up a family, and almost took me. After years of rebuilding and restoring, I am now in a place where I can help others who suffer from. That is my goal. My mission. What I have to do. To give back. To help those who many in society turn their back on, believing they are exaggerating, or seeking attention, or making excuses for bad behavior. There is a horrible stigma that needs to disappear. I am on the road to becoming a counsellor so that I can help those who suffer and advocate for change.
Suicide often runs in families. Once endured, it can become a viable option for children and siblings, in my experience as a first responder. It is a horrible legacy to leave. Avoid it at all costs, for the sake of your son, daughter, brother or sister who may share a genetic or environmental predisposition to mental health or addiction issues. Please.
I do not agree that it runs in the family as it can be other factors that can make someone want to end their life.my daughter who was in a serious accident years ago tried to commit suicide.she had a head injury and had to come back from that.thank god she came a long way and is now married with 2 beautiful children but it still haunts us to this day.I feel that there is not enough help for mental illness and they feel alone.
I am , nearly, in the same place as the RM in this story
You are not alone. You are not crazy. Reach out. We are here to help.
I’m sorry for posting here. I am an adult, not a kid…I should know better. I was being impulsive…sorry pls.
I posted the videos link on my depression support chat.. Hopefully some people will see it from around the world, not just Canada.
Don’t be sorry Pat. I’m 68 years old. We all need to help each other regardless of age. I need all the help I can get.
Dr. Diane Kelsall, Deputy Editor, CMAJ
HI Pat: I will be in touch with you offline.