Tea & Bannock: Being honest about depression

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I was watching Tout le monde en parle recently. Hubert Lenoir, a 24-year-old singer and songwriter, was being interviewed on the hugely popular Radio-Canada program about the success of his recent album Darlène. Lenoir is an eccentric artist who does not fit in the Western mould of what a man should look like. He opened up about his struggles to cope with insults and his new life as a national celebrity, and said that recently, he feels like setting himself on fire. For me, such honesty about one’s mental health is an act of bravery but I was disgusted by the lack of empathy and response he received from the hosts. In this province, we still cannot address suicide honestly without being shamed. As someone who attempted in the past, that hits home.

I remember when I was in that state. I remember how insulted and alone I felt when I was told I needed to wait months to see clinicians. I feel like the resources we give to youth in crisis are not empowering at all. I was told to call suicide hotlines when the last thing I needed was to talk to a stranger who I feared might call the cops on me. I was told that people are there for me when in reality I was alone to the point I could not leave my apartment. None of my friends visited me. When you’re not even able to leave your flat, you can’t really get services in the city.

Depression is ugly. I do understand that treatment has to be done a certain way but if you are going to promise support, you have to deliver and quickly. It’s the same thing with gatherings on suicide prevention. We open up, get hugs and we’re being told that people will be there for us and we don’t hear from most of them ever again.

There is a lack of resources for men also. Men are expected to “man up” when things go wrong and rarely get proper spaces to show vulnerability. Such toxic masculinity discourages men in our communities from seeking help and causes damage to our collective wellbeing.

The circle is very symbolic for Indigenous peoples when it comes to health, environment and community structure. But the only circle we need to break is the cycle of suffering. A single individual’s poor mental health can have an impact on a whole community, so it is our collective responsibility to support everyone. Some will need land-based programs, some will need Elders and some will need more Western-style services, while others will find peace in spirituality or religion. We need to provide all of them.

No one is born knowing how to handle crisis. It’s something we learn. A lot of parents want to help their child but don’t know how. Residential schools had a negative impact on our communities not only because they took language and culture away from our parents but also because they never taught them proper communication skills. We need to give communication tools to our community members so they know how to express themselves when something bad happens.

We are starting to have a decent conversation on suicide and mental health. I know a lot of community members have creative ideas for initiatives based on their personal experiences. Those initiatives need to be supported and the conversation has to keep going outside suicide prevention gatherings or suicide prevention week.

That segment on Tout le monde en parle really irritated me. No one experiencing suicidal ideations deserves what Dany Turcotte said. “You don’t say things like that.” To anyone struggling right now: yes, you can say things like that. Your feelings are valid and you deserve a place to safely express them.

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