On a random Tuesday in April of 2009 my son, Daniel, took his life. I was thrown into grief-driven depression. The horrifying world that my son had inhabited for so long was instantly put into painful relief. I learned that suicide never leaves behind a simple narrative. Depression and diseases of the brain arise from complex factors, which are often misunderstood. There is a common thread, however: sufferers struggle with an overarching sense of hopelessness and an inability to see past the present moment.
As the shock slowly lifted, I began to look for answers as to why my 23-year-old son would take his life. Every day it seemed as though I was peeling back another layer of Daniel’s life. I learned that he had felt isolated during his first year at university and that he had skipped classes and began self-medicating. He had become reckless and prone to injury. He may have imagined that he’d become a burden to his family. He likely, impulsively turned his anger inward to unburden himself of the despair.
Thomas Joiner, author of Why People Die by Suicide and a suicide survivor, states: Various kinds of recklessness may predispose people to suicide precisely because it leaves them open to injury and danger. Repeated injurious experiences, he suggests, “in turn, make people fearless about a lot of things, including self-injury.”
My son was involved in a variety of sports including hockey, basketball and football. He was also an avid long boarder. After his suicide, I found out that he boarded onto street ramps, often getting perilously close to oncoming traffic. On one of those occasions he returned home to his apartment bloodied and bruised from falling hard on the pavement. He adapted to physical injury, just as he’d done with his asthma and life-threatening food allergies. His melancholy was another problem that he alone would deal with.
“The most robust intervention we can offer is the prevention and treatment of depression and other mental illnesses. Most suicide completion is impulsive and impossible to predict. It’s therefore essential we do whatever we can to reduce risk. We are continuously improving our understanding of how the brain operates, enabling us to better understand how to develop new models of thinking about what causes, and how to treat mental illness.” Dr. Roger McIntyre Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the University of Toronto and Head of the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit at the University Health Network.