This letter is in response to your editorial titled “Shame: the good, the bad and the convenient.” Your post caption reads: “Valemount is experiencing an epidemic of self harm. Way too many people, especially men, have taken their own lives. I can count at least four deaths over the past year and a half.”
I was initially triggered by this article as one of those four people in your stats is my brother. As I sat with what it was that upset me I realized that he is counted as a stat, yet he is not a number, he had a life and has a story.
When I read through the article I can hear your concern for the community and ywou even share some of your experiences with shame and how disempowering that can be when you have no anonymity. It sounds as though you believe that shame is the contributing factor to mental health and that it is the cause of dying by suicide.
As you can imagine I have spent much time and effort to understand mental illness and mental disorders as my life has been deeply effected by the loss of two siblings. Each person who dies by suicide has a story with many different contributing factors.
I would like to bring your attention to a few things, self harm and suicide are not the same thing. Those who die by suicide have low blood flow and a poorly functioning prefrontal cortex which is essentially the break of your brain. Suicide is not a choice it is an impulse meant to stop the pain to a problem that feels never ending and since the break of the brain isn’t functioning the impulse isn’t squashed. People do not commit suicide no more than people commit a heart attack, the brain is an organ that can stop functioning just as the heart or any other organ stops functioning.
What I heard in your article is that you care and would like change for the community of Valemount. I think centering shame as the cause of suicide is a gross over simplification and a disservice to those who are living with mental illness or mental disorders and those experiencing the loss of a loved one. It narrows down their suffering to one dimension, when each person’s lived experience is multi layered and very nuanced.
I feel educating people about mental illness, creating an open discussion about mental health and removing barriers for support will go so much further to reshape the communities approach.
If my listening is correct (that you wish to help the community) I suggest speaking to each of the families and seeing if they would be willing to share their story. Allowing the community to see a larger piece of the picture of someone they cared about may grow empathy and understanding. As well as speaking to mental health professionals and trauma counsellors/therapists better understand gaps in the services Valemount has.
Thank you for your letter. It gives us a great opportunity to think about suicide and also how we cover it. Research shows that certain types of news coverage increases the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals (reportingonsuicide.org) and so we’ve been hesitant, perhaps too hesitant to cover local suicides in depth. Clearly though, it’s time for us to do more, in a responsible way. When we cover suicide we will include resources for those who may be struggling. One resource is the Northern BC Crisis Line 1-888-562-1214 ‘A safe, confidential and non-judgmental crisis line to discuss anything troubling you.’