Lives lost, kids struggling with identity and bullying, young people suddenly feeling adrift and abandoned, veterans returning home from duty, older people struggling with health and uncertain of the way ahead. What we now realize is a simple truth: Suicide is not just a personal tragedy, a life cut short, an existential decision that leaves disbelief and devastation behind. It has become far more. Just as those who take their lives have no sense of the impact their decision will have on those who survive them, we can no longer turn away and pretend something is not very wrong.
A good society is a place where we care about each other, no more, no less. We can’t be indifferent to what is happening, to the truly frightening statistics that must now inform a national strategy to combat suicide.
Today, 10 Canadians will take their own lives, a per capita rate three times that of the United States’, largely due to the staggering number of suicides among aboriginal Canadians. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death in men ages 25 to 29 and 40 to 44, women ages 30 to 34, and the second cause of death among adolescents.
It is no surprise, then, that all of us have been touched by suicide, have lost friends and loved ones, and have tried to figure out why lives that seemed together and well-focused are suddenly ended. But the bewilderment of silence and pain that surrounds mental health has to end. It is no longer just a personal question; it is now a political question.
In asking Parliament to debate this question, we are encouraging Canadians to share their stories and perspectives, what it will take to save lives, and hope; how to make the love we owe each other something real and practical.
We know that suicide occurs more often in aboriginal communities, that it affects adolescents struggling with sexual identity, that it touches those in our armed forces, our police and firefighters, and that it deeply affects seniors as they struggle with the difficulties of growing old.
The more taboos we can break, the better off we are. A great friend and mentor, the late Dan Offord, a child psychiatrist of world renown, used to say that, above all else, every child needs to feel valued and loved, and needs to know that inside each of us is something good, an ability to grow and learn.
That child is inside each and every one of us.
When I say that suicide has now become a political question, I do not mean that it is in any sense partisan. But we do have to admit that, if people were better housed, and less poor, and more able to be accepted for who they are, they would be less likely to allow setbacks to become a reason to end it all.
But depression is not a function of class or wealth. It can touch any one of us. The question for us is to make sure we have the supports all around us to ensure that people have a place to turn.
A national strategy would make a difference. The federal government has a special responsibility for aboriginal people, as it does for the armed forces. It can help set the standard.
Let’s make a start by having Parliament come together on an issue that we all know matters. Let’s start to measure how we’re doing, figure out what works, support the professionals in the field, and find it in our hearts to tell the families who continue to struggle with personal tragedy that they are not alone, and that we can still make the world a better place.
Bob Rae is interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.