It happened 4 times in 6 months last year.  I am still struggling to comprehend what brought us to that point, and how after the first attempt it was continuing in a seemingly endless spiral.  Although we aren’t in the full crisis mode that we were last year, the challenges are just different.  Not less.  And the ghosts of what happened still lurk in the shadows of every late-night phone call, tricky date on the calendar, and unanswered knock on her door.

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and I was asked to write about my story.  I don’t feel comfortable writing about it under my name, as it is only partially my story.  Mostly my mother’s.  So I will be anonymous.  Which strikes me as having a touch of irony since the whole point of an awareness day is to shed light on the struggle and reduce the shame and secrecy that still haunt the topics of mental illness and suicide.  But it will have to do for now.

My mother is in her sixties, and although she has struggled with anxiety and depression for much of her life, I don’t think that she would ever be what someone would think of as an at-risk case for the act of suicide.  None of us, including her, are even sure what made this round of her cyclical depression different than any of them before, other than that she was having a harder time coming out of the valley this time.  And then it only took one more straw for her to decide that life was not worth living, and she took every pill in her recently-filled prescriptions.  When that didn’t work she took the stockpile of old medications that she was no longer on, and no one even realized she had.

Nothing shocked me more than the day her boyfriend called to tell me that she had tried to kill herself.  Or at least it should have.

Why wasn’t I shocked?

My gut felt like I knew I would get this call someday.  But if a part of me deep inside knew, why hadn’t I done something to stop it?

I felt enormous guilt.

Guilt is just one of the many emotions that people feel when a loved one attempts suicide.  Along the way I have also come to learn that sorrow, helplessness, fear, and anger are other powerful emotions that take over our lives.

Disappointment in the medical system is another over-riding feeling.  Trying to get help for her has felt like an impossible task.  Each cycle has involved being admitted to the local hospital’s psychiatric care unit where they start from square one with her medications, watch her like a hawk, and provide the same minimal weekly activities in attempt to break up the day.  There was no counselling.  We needed a referral just to talk to the social worker, who didn’t have much to say anyway because the programmes aren’t there.  And the ones that do exist, my mother won’t participate in.  Because when she is down, talking to people is too hard.  Her fourth attempt was an hour before a counselling session that we forced her to sign up for.  She enjoyed the first 2 sessions, but when they assigned homework she decided it was too much.

And when her mood is up, she thinks she is cured.  And that is when the hospital lets her out with full access to her prescriptions, and only a 2-month follow-up with the psychiatrist.  We beg and plead for more of a solution, and nothing comes.

When we asked about ways of dispensing her medication on a daily basis her psychiatrist actually said, in front of her even, “If she really wants to kill herself, she will find another way, like drinking bleach.”  Unbelievable.  We couldn’t accept that, so we ordered a pill dispenser that is a locked box that we fill weekly, and only dispenses what she needs.  Happily she hasn’t resorted to other methods, and she has learned that she will come through the other side of the valleys, but that doesn’t change my disappointment in the mental health system in Ontario.  Or my fear that we are kidding ourselves in thinking that we have solved anything.

The phone will always make me nervous.

I still feel powerless.  I feel like the system has let my mother down.  There is the message that we need to look for signs, and ask for help.  But it can’t stop there.  We need to improve the help that is given.  When someone has the courage to seek help, either for themselves or their loved one, the help has to be there.  And we need better programs to support the family members.  I called a hotline the day of my mother’s first attempt to see what help there may be to support us in navigating all of this, and I was told that there “isn’t really anything.”  This is not acceptable.  My hope in talking about this is that we will begin to change the system and change lives.  And most importantly…save them.

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23 Comments

  1. The system has let your mother down, and you, the family down. Any psychiatrist who says “she could drink bleach” needs to be reported for inappropriate behaviour or something to that effect. I would also look for another doctor, because obviously this one doesn’t really care.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to you in hope the days get better.

    • I agree. The problem is that none of the other doctors seem to know what to do either, and she was “lucky” to get in with him – the system is so stretched that she probably wouldn’t get in with another doctor. We need funding for more doctors so that they can take the time to do better than this. Thank you for commenting!

  2. I am so sorry for you and your family. Your Mother must struggle with so much to get to that point. Nobody should have to worry so hard as a daughter for her mother’s wellness.

  3. That was so painful.. Nobody should ever be driven to the point where they want to take their own life.. no matter what the reason is…

  4. So very true: when someone finally reaches out for help, help needs to be there. There are so many ways in which we fail the broken people in this world. I hope that through participating in this blog carnival we will see change all over the world. I wish you and your mother love, peace and hope.

    • Thank you very much for your comments, and for sharing my story. I am glad that people are beginning to talk more openly about this subject, and hopeful that we will begin to find real solutions soon.

  5. My heart goes out to you, and I understand your anonymity. My mother attempted suicide when I was 22. My brother and dad found her. My reaction was anger. We had all been walking on eggshells around her for months. Ever creak in the floor, squeak of a tap or click of a cupboard door set her off into a rage. Because she had been a stay-at-home mom, I guess I figured her whole identity was wrapped up in us, because, in my mind, I felt that despite bending over backwards to please her, she still did this to us. I was angry with my sister for being so confrontational and ‘undoing’ my efforts.

    She was hospitalized for weeks, and did get follow-up care. We had to attend family therapy. It sounds like we are the lucky ones, after reading your post. This was in the early nineties. Is this the state of health care now? I will say that her suicide attempt got our entire family help when we were in a state of crisis. For years, there would be concerned teachers, relatives, the family doctor, even strangers reaching out, but not following up. Everyone was too polite.

    We have all been impacted greatly by what we went through. Hearing your story scares the hell out of me because had it not been for the professionals, things could have gotten far worse.

    I agree with the writer who suggested that you report the psychiatrist who made the bleach comment. Document everything.

    I am planning to write a book about our experiences (hence the established pen name). Maybe this is the place to start. There were a great many lessons, and the miracle is that my mom is doing very well today. She is making up for the pain in being an amazing, emotionally healthy grandmother. I never thought I would see the day.

    Best wishes to you. I will hold you in my heart.

    • Thank you for your comment Sam. I am so sorry that you have been through this as well. I really relate to the walking on eggshells way of living, and know how stressful that is. I am glad that your family got good help, and that your mom is doing so well. My mother resists the therapy side of treatment, and your story gives me hope that therapy can make a real difference. I definitely encourage you to write about your story, both for therapeutic value for yourself, and also to give others, like me, hope and encouragement. Please update us, as I would love to read more of your story.

  6. Realistic daughter Reply

    My mother attempted suicide because I did not listen to her once, like any disobeying child (I don’t even remember why) . We have never had a connection to each other before my father’s death and I was way closer to my dad than my mom. My mom was and still is the type of woman that wants a lot of attention, very social so she never had enough time for her family. She is very egotistical and childish , she has always made very bad choices in her life (married a heavily indebted man,daily dramas with her new husband one day she is fine the other she wants to divorce, leaving my brothers behind her). I have learnt recently from my aunt that she tried to kill herself when she was younger so from that moment I understood that she did not try to kill herslef because of ME, because I was a nasty child but because she is a very selfish person and probably has a personality or a mental disorder. It takes some time to accept that your parents are not the role models that you’d normally expect .

  7. So very sorry to hear of your mothers struggles with depression. You’re very brave, anonymous or not, to share your story. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to watch your mother suffer and feel helpless. My heart goes out to you.

  8. My Mother just attempted suicide this past weekend. She is 78 and has had 4 heart sugeries, a stroke and nueropathy in her feet. She still lives alone and is a very strong willed independent woman. She is one to never show weakness. That is why we are all so surprised to find that she did this. She doesn’t want to go through more heart surgeries or foot pain. She also said she doesn’t want to be a burden to her kids. After being in the hospital for 12 hours while they checked for stroke or heart attack she finally started telling me bits and pieces. I told the nurse that they were looking at this all wrong. They took blood work but never saw that she had tried to OD on pills. I don’t understand that. We all have so many mixed feelings about this anger, guilt, sadness…………I hope that we get help. It is still too soon to tell.

  9. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought
    this post was great. I don’t know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  10. I came across your blog yesterday while browsing the internet for whay to say to someone who tried to commit suicide. While reading it, I cried for the first time since my Mom was admitted to the hospital 4 days ago. Your situation seems so similar to mine and it reached something in me. I think my anger and frustration are trumping my sadness right now. That and also the fact that I am looked to to be the strong and level-headed one of all my siblings. I feel it is important to maintain the brave facade. You hit the nail right on the head when you talked about being ashamed. Is this why I have told absolutely NO ONE what is going on in my life? I think it’s one part being ashamed, another part is feeling guilty that I could allow it to happen and a part of it is also that I don’t want to be constantly reminded about it every time someone asks me how my Mom is doing. I suppose in time I will figure all of that out, but for right now I’m taking it day by day. My Mom has now been in the hospital for over 5 days and she is not fully awake or very responsive so everyday we’re hopeful for some kind of positive change. I am still optimistic that she will pull through this without any permanent damage. The scariest part will be when it comes time for therapy. This is her 3rd attempt now and her prior therapy treatments were unsuccessful and her depression seemed to deepen. I’m hoping they will admit her for some in-patient therapy before allowing her to come home and maintain the therapy sessions on her own, which she has already proven she will discontinue if she doesn’t like what they are telling her. The other side of all of this is my Dad. It was his decision to leave after 40 years of marriage that has escalated my Mom’s depression and initiated her suicide attempts. I don’t blame my Dad whatsoever for my Mom’s reaction, however he blames himself and is now feeling very guilt-ridden. I am thankful that is currently in therapy himself to deal with all of this and that he says it is helping. This has affected all of us in different ways and the effect is overwhelming. Thank you for sharing your story and allowing me to share mine. Just like you, we will all get through it as we take it day by day.

    • Editor Anne here. Thanks for sharing that story. I’m truly sorry for what you are going through. That sort of mental illness has devastating effects on the whole family, and it always feels like there’s more than enough blame to go around. I hope that this round comes out different, and for the better, for everyone. Strength and peace to you.

  11. Does anyone know if a parents attempted suicide in front of the child increases the. child’s chance of suicide?
    I really need to know this but I can’t go into details.
    Kathleen

  12. my mom also tried to end her life 3 times.. she did not succeed, but physical illness took her away from us in the end. it was hard to witness the decay of a human being and loved one “becoming someone else” and wanted to leave us. My parents also divorced a couple of years before she died.
    …I felt like my whole life had been a lie, a fake, all my experiences and my upbrininging a fake, felt lost and the person that I had become a fake, brought up by 2 liers.
    f*** this is still hurtin.. just wanted to tell my story… peace :'(

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