Reflections on Mental Health and Youth Suicide Prevention
We numb ourselves to psychological traumas, including emotional isolation, but in disconnecting from others, we’re also disconnecting from ourselves.
Advertisements online, on TV, in the street, at school, and at social events showcase instant gratification products as solutions to everything, including problems with complicated psychological roots.
Illustration By Chris Koehler
I reached Edmonton’s High Level Bridge as clusters of snowflakes clouded the sky. It was Friday night, already dark, and I was alone but for a young man in black who passed me from the opposite ledge. Walking home was my favorite time to practice singing, and my teacher had me rehearsing Joni Mitchell’s “River.” I squinted into the whitewashed western horizon and sang to the North Saskatchewan: “I wish I had a river so long, I would teach my feet to fly …”
Months later, I learned that my brother, Eugene, had walked the same ledge only a couple of hours earlier. He didn’t make it to the other side of the bridge. On Saturday morning, January 8, 2011, my mom called to tell me Eugene was missing from Alberta Hospital.
My brother spent six years in and out of institutions, mostly hospitals, where doctors diagnosed him with drug-induced paranoid schizophrenia. He’d gone absent without leave several times, so at first we hoped he’d just come home, but as winter weeks passed with no news, we braced ourselves for the worst. On February 3, 2011, I spoke with the missing persons constable who told me about a police report he’d been mulling over since the Monday after Eugene went missing. A man driving over the bridge at 4 p.m. that Friday had notified police when he’d caught a glimpse of a male, “at least six feet tall in a blue and white coat,” diving from the railing. Hearing this news, I closed my eyes, and there he was, jumping. My heart sank in my chest, and I knew he was gone.
“Some people who go in the river never come out,” the constable warned us regarding the search for the body, but my mom prayed for closure and to see her son again. Finally, on April 10, 2011, police were at her door, and she called me, crying: “They found Eugene.” But she couldn’t see him that way—a body emptied of life yet full of water, pulled from the river on a Sunday afternoon, cash still in his wallet and a cast on his arm.
We’d grown up together as fairly normal teenagers who’d rebelled against impending adulthood by smoking a lot of pot, taking mushrooms, and getting drunk. My friends and I loathed the thought of having to live in “the real world” of mortgages, university, debt, responsibilities, and general wage slavery. In the summer of 2004, when Eugene was 19 and I was 17, he told me he was hearing voices. I suggested he seek professional help; then I stopped abusing drugs. An older sibling can be like a yellow canary—first to go down the mine.
I remember our mom asking, “Why him?” But who could ever answer? There’s no single or simple explanation. However, based on my experience, there are several potential triggers of mental illness and suicide in youth, as well as options for youth suicide prevention.
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