Emma Woolley on Mental Health Stigmas

I often think about suicide. Not about killing myself–not anymore–but about what we say and don’t say about it. I was 15 when people I loved started taking their own lives. In two years, I lost a childhood friend, a friend from my first high school, and my uncle. Since then, I’ve lost another.

Even after inordinate loss to depression and suicide, it took years for me to seriously focus on my own mental health. Why? Because I was scared. Because not enough people really talk about it in an educational or meaningful way. Because despite the fact that the stigma around mental health is slowly reducing, there is a remarkable lack of support for those with illnesses.

Emma Woolley is a digital content manager in Toronto. She has bipolar II disorder, so she can be really awesome or really not, depending on the day. She likes debates, writing fiction, animals and books. Follow her @emmamwoolley

1. Talking about despair

Last January, Toronto artist and organizer Dave Meslin wrote this essay after the death of acquaintance David Rice. He shares his experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts to encourage open discussion of mental health and reminds us that we’re never alone. It’s one of the most emotionally resonant calls to action I’ve ever read, and in fact, this post is what inspired me to be more open about my own struggles.

2. When it isn’t just fatigue

The thing about mental health is that illness can be difficult to diagnose. For most of my life I thought I was just really emotional. After a devastating nervous breakdown, I realized my problem was that I was unable to control my moods. In her essay, Maura Kelly recounts how she realized she was clinically depressed the night she almost jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge.

3. Why media silence is damaging

During a heated debate, a friend said to me: “If media covered every suicide, there’d be little room for anything else.” This is true, but few people know it. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Canada, but it is rarely covered. In this link-heavy feature, Liam Casey explores why media need to shed the taboo of suicide reporting.

4. Canada’s mental health crisis

The Globe & Mail has run not one, but two meaningful and honest series on mental health, both focused on awareness, solutions, and education: In 2008, Breakdown, and in 2009, Breaking Through. The most touching story is that of Peter O’Neill, a lawyer living with bipolar disorder whose family members have dedicated their lives to keeping him safe.

5. The politics of getting better

Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project was created in September 2010 in response to an increase in reported suicides of gay teenagers. While the project has been applauded by many (um, even Obama made a video), many others criticize the simplicity of the message. In her response to the project, Sex Geek blogger Andrea Zanin addresses the complexity of dealing with and preventing suicide.