I’ve always participated in the Bell Let’s Talk mental health imitative but this year is different, and though I’d give anything for things to be anything but, they aren’t.
I’m a resident of one of the world’s greatest and most visited natural wonders and as such I’m privy to the untold truths of Niagara Falls:
- There is so much more to this city than tacky tourist traps and cheesy heart-shaped tubs in poorly-decorated, over-priced hotel rooms.
- This city is populated by decent, hard-working citizens who would go the edge of Hell itself for each other.
- Every year millions of people gather at the base of the Canadian falls to marvel at its majestic power.
- Hundreds of them will hurl themselves over the guard rails, surrendering all that they are to the depths of the Falls. Many will never be seen again, their forms claimed by the cataracts forever.
If you’re offended by my blunt nature, I suppose I should apologize.
But I’m not going to.
The truth is, every year on this day I read hundreds of tweets, Facebook messages and blog posts about mental health issues and while I applaud everyone who speaks out on Bell Let’s Talk day, this year I’m, as they say, sick and tired of being sick and tired. The number of people who reach out every day in an attempt to save those who are facing down the specter of mental illness is legion but it still seems like the battle is one we’ll never win.
I lost one of the best friends I ever had last year because too many people failed to act. The Canadian health care system failed him. Those closest to him, though they loved him dearly, failed him. I failed him.
We failed him because we couldn’t break through; he was trying to get his pleas for help out but we couldn’t decode the language he was using. The health care system simply wasn’t listening, and quite frankly, was too busy and overtaxed to give a damn. And so we lost him on an otherwise beautiful Monday summer afternoon, though we wouldn’t know it until six days later, after spending an excruciating week searching the Niagara region for him.
He’ll never know how many people were frantically searching for him. He’ll never know about all the media coverage dedicated to his disappearance. He’ll never know just how many people were beside themselves with worry as he became a version of Schrödinger’s cat, neither living nor dead. He’ll never know any of this because he made a decision that was heartbreaking in its finality.
It was his decision to make, it’s true, but my friend will never know how many dominoes were tumbled when he made that fateful choice. My life has never been the same; I’ve always been an emotional mammal but now I tear up at pretty much everything. Animated films like Coco, the sight of an old homeless guy in New York City, even Kleenex commercials. (Ironic, right?)
The week my friend disappeared authorities on both sides of the Niagara border were waiting for four bodies to surface. Think about that for one second. Four lost souls from completely different walks of life, facing completely different challenges, who made the same choice to sacrifice themselves to Niagara’s cataracts. In the same week.
This sobering truth sickens me. It makes me tired through to my bones. It makes me angry. Local politicians cover it up. The media ignores it. Very few people want to talk about it.
I get it, I truly do. No one wants to risk making Niagara a mecca for jumpers. No one wants to risk their livelihood if word gets out that Niagara Falls is so much more than a tourist attraction.
But it is so much more.
And so I implore you, if you know someone who is struggling with mental health issues, if your loved one is drifting away (the phrase, “lonely among us” springs to mind) if you can imagine, even for a nanosecond, that someone you care about is considering taking their life…
TALK TO THEM.
DO IT UNTIL YOUR BREATH IS GONE AND YOU RUN OUT OF WORDS.
Granted, a small army of us tried to talk to my friend, my brother, only to fail. In the end the outcome appears to have been inevitable. Now I have to ask myself the same two questions every day, “Why did this have to happen?” and “How many others are making the same choice right now?”
I’ll keep asking those questions but I’ll stay hopeful that the answers await me in the future. In the meantime, let’s not stay silent.