Those left behind
By Chad Ingram
I lost a friend to suicide last year.
I didn’t find out until months after it happened.
My friend was also a co-worker of mine, when I lived and worked in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. That’s going back to 2008. I left B.C. to come back to Ontario and immediately began work at the Times.
I hadn’t seen my friend since I left the West, but we’d always kept in touch, mostly through digital chat in recent years, having Facebook exchanges every few months.
He was one of the few close friends I had in B.C. We’d go out for beers each week after the paper was put together and sent to press. We’d spend hours talking about politics, music and film.
A few years older than me, he was a brilliant guy, a great journalist and a mentor.
For whatever reason, it dawned on me in November that I hadn’t heard from him in some time.
When I went to send him a message on Facebook, his profile was gone.
So I went looking for him.
What I found after a brief Google search suspended time.
An obituary, my friend’s face staring back at me from my computer screen.
Thirty-six years old. And dead. There was no information about the circumstances, other than he’d died suddenly.
Further searching on the Internet revealed that his family had set up a foundation in his name, one that gives educational bursaries to young people suffering from mental health problems.
Shock was followed by disbelief. I felt like someone had ripped my stomach from my body.
What followed was a strange and illogical guilt.
2015 was a great year for me. I got married. Went on an incredible Italian honeymoon. Bought a house.
It was strange and terrible realizing that as I was doing all these things, my friend had ceased to exist.
How could this have happened? Why didn’t he reach out to me? Or anyone?
But that’s the thing about mental illness, it sometimes becomes so unbearable for the sufferer that he can no longer cope.
It’s so isolating that he’s too far gone to realize the extreme impact his departure will have on those who know him.
I struggled for days after I found out. Unable to concentrate at work. Breaking into tears.
I can’t imagine what his family is going through.
When someone suffering from mental illness goes to this extreme length, he is relieved from his suffering, but what about those of us left behind?
This week sees Bell Let’s Talk day, an annual event from the telecommunications giant that encourages ending the stigma around mental illness and raises funds for programming.
It’s a great initiative and it’s heartening to see people coming forward with their stories, but the reality is it should be OK to talk about mental illness every day.
I don’t know what happened to my friend, where it happened or who found him.
But I do know he should have felt able to talk to someone.