Men make up 75% of all suicides in Canada. However, men are less likely to seek help for their mental health.
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.
This picture was captured on my wedding day. I never had a brother, but Justin was the closest thing to it.
Little did I know that just over one year later he would die by suicide.
Justin and I shared a similar journey. We both struggled with mental illness and addictions, and yet for reasons I will never truly know, he is no longer here and I remain.
This sudden loss left me with many questions.
As a motivational speaker I have been fortunate to share the stage with mental health advocate, Michael Landsberg. He explains that people end their lives when the fear of living another moment outweighs the fear of dying.
In October, 2011, Justin arrived at this point.
Regardless of how I felt about it, I had to learn to accept his decision.
I learned a lot from this loss. I learned how to grieve sober, but I also learned the importance of leaving nothing left unsaid.
Today, if a loved one is struggling I have learned the importance of saying and doing everything so that I don’t ever look back thinking I should have done more. I can communicate that I am there to listen, and I can direct them to the appropriate resources. However, at the end of the day, the choice is theirs. Similar to the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
I have also learned the importance of asking the tough question, “Are you feeling suicidal?” I think that sometimes we fear asking the question because we fear the response. What if they say, “Yes”?
In this moment I believe the greatest gift we can give is our ears. There is immense power in actively listening. Say nothing, and allow them to just speak.
Talking allows the darkness to see the light of day.
I have also learned the importance of putting a voice to my own pain.
People often ask me what the tattoo on my throat means.
As you can see in the picture, the letters are JA. I traced over Justin’s initials and made them into a tattoo.
These letters are surrounded by a phoenix. The symbolic meaning of a phoenix is about renewal and overcoming darkness. This symbolic bird lit itself on fire, and after three days emerged from its own ashes – reborn and released from the sentence of death. This bird was able to live on forever.
Similarly, Justin’s pain was so intense that he needed a release.
As men, we feel pain in the same way women do. The challenge is that we are not always sure how to manage that pain. Emotions are energy, and if we don’t manage the emotions in a healthy way life can become unmanageable. Talking and writing have become two of my greatest tools.
Children and youth are always watching us. Boys will eventually become men. If we can’t model showing emotion then why should they?
Asking for help is not a weakness, but rather an incredible demonstration of strength.
The next time you see a man struggling, don’t say “Suck it up.” or “Man up!”
Rather than telling them to get over it, try helping them get through it.
Shame kept me silent for too many years, and that damn near killed me.
Too many men are suffering in silence. Getting the right help can make all the difference.
I understand the risk, the fear and anxiety. But I also understand the rewards.