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Executive Director's Blog

Sarah Cannon

Follow the journey and goings on at PCMH along with Executive Director, Sarah Cannon, as she blogs about issues we all face, the advocacy/social awareness campaign trail and much more.

Sarah's blog is also featured at www.speakingofkidsmentalhealth.ca

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Suicide - The "S" Word

Suicide - The "S" word...
As I travel in my role at PCMH I am often asked to give presentations, do keynote addresses and talk to people about children's mental health. Early on my daughter learned about advocacy and she herself has embraced the role of advocate appearing on TV and being interviewed for papers etc, and she now advocates for herself and others as well. She is very brave allowing me to tell her story and to stand firmly in front of stigma in an effort to stop it. So for almost ten years, this is what we have done whenever given the chance.

Well a few months ago I was asked to give a presentation of a different sort which has changed things for me a bit. I realize that even when I think I have it all figured out and have done all the healing work there is to do, I learn there is always more.

January and February are always tough months for me - seven years ago in January my husband, my children's father lost his life to mental illness when he took his life at our home. January sees the anniversary of his death, February sees his birthday and the birthday of my daughter. This year my daughter turned 13, and as I celebrated with her, like with every year, I noticed the differences in her since her father's passing and all that he never knew about her. The thoughts of teddy bear gifts to make-up and make-up bags, birthday parties at Choo Choo Charlies to boy/girl parties in my basement, and every year I am sad that her father's life was taken young and that he is not with me enjoying and worrying about all these changes our amazing children are going through. All the firsts he has missed and all the big moments he will not be present for, and all the times that his absence will cause a void in what should be completely happy times for them.

Since his suicide I have never really spoken publicly about it. I have talked about it, I don't hide it, but whenever I presented, whenever I advocated, it was really solely around children's mental health. Two things have changed this for me. The first, a conference where I had the privilege of seeing Dr. David Goldbloom giving a key note address on stigma. The second, being asked to present at the
Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention's Annual General Meeting.
Upon being asked to give the address I agreed, I am used to speaking in public and did not see a problem with it. Then it dawned on me - wait a minute, this is an association that is about suicide prevention, the topic really should address suicide, and I have a perspective to share, perhaps one that others would appreciate hearing. So I had to think about this and what that presentation might be, what I might bring to this type of conversation. These thoughts made me think about my hearing Dr. Goldbloom, and then I remembered how at that presentation I realized that even while I was a strong advocate and feel I am pretty good about not giving into stigma and standing firmly in front of it, there were times that I myself did indeed give into stigma. So this presentation was the first time I publicly spoke of my husband's suicide, and another step forward in my growth, and hopefully in the breaking down of stigma further.

Dr. Goldbloom's comments that hit home the most for me were this: in a study done that examined over 800 articles comparing the use of the words schizophrenia and suicide. It compared how many times the word cancer was used as a metaphor to how many times schizophrenia was used as a metaphor. Schizophrenia was used 24% as a metaphor - cancer less than 1%. In obituaries the word cancer was used 24% of the time, the word schizophrenia 0! He also spoke of the coded obituaries for people who had died from suicide "suddenly while at home", "unexpectedly at a young age". But for cancer "after a courageous battle with cancer lost his life". He noted that he knew hundreds of patients who had lost courageous battles, perhaps the most courageous and most wicked of battles, with mental illness. I thought of my husband's obituary, and I remember thinking at the time "what on earth am I going to say,
everyone is already so angry with me, I don't want to make it worse".

I ended up not even mentioning my own name in the obituary not wanting to anger those who had lashed out at me further, not wanting to cause anymore pain to anyone because of his death. I thought after Dr.
Golbloom's presentation I myself am guilty of falling victim to stigma, to allowing it to live, and I was wrong. I did not honour Gary in his illness, his struggle, and I allowed the reactions of people due in most part to stigma to affect how I myself honoured his life and his death.

I have thought to myself often that one day I will honour properly his life and his death, and I think the presentations about suicide that I now do are a first step to this. After these last two months and the difficult times I re-visited once again, I decided to take step two and honour him here with the obituary I should have written seven years ago.

January 18 - Gary Onisime Duguay lost a very courageous and lonely battle this weekend to Bipolar Disorder. After years of battling his faceless demons and struggling to maintain balance for himself and his family he was overcome with his illness and pain, and chose to find peace and be free from his pain and suffering. He hoped his choice would free his family from burden and worry and he made his decision in part because of his deep love for his wife and two daughters, Sarah, Emily, and Amy. We will no longer worry about him, and are grateful for the final peace he achieved, but our pain now comes from a life that he will not be part of because symptoms of his illness would not be controlled. We will honour his life, and his death by continuing to fight for recognition and honour for all those who
suffer from these hateful illnesses that claim too many young lives.
Gary will be missed, and we admire his bravery while fighting his illness, and do not blame him for his need for peace and freedom from such suffering. Rest in peace and happiness.

Thank you for allowing me to take this important step for myself, my children, and most importantly, Gary.

Add comment 2010-06-13 Sarah Cannon



That is beautiful Sarah, what a powerful story you have. You are an incredible advocate and role model. Andrea Boulden

Posted: Monday June 14, 2010 10:06 AM


I too know the peace that comes after my daughter's long battle with mental health...we too struggle each July but we no longer worry about her pain. Well done Sarah - some time I would like to join you in your speaking engagement and speak to my daughter's life and death. I spoke many times when whe first died but no longer speak as I feel people did not want to hear the real facts about Ashlee's struggles - not even family. Koodoo's for taking the opportunity to do so. Laura

Posted: Monday June 14, 2010 11:06 AM


Sarah, what a brave statement you make with those words. My son was diagnosed with major depression at 16 and last November, at age 19, made an unsucessful (thankfully) attempt to take his life. I still struggle when I don't hear from him but I also know that despite learning, working and doing our very best to help those with mental health illnesses, it may not be enough to save the ones we love from doing what we fear. Thanks for writing this blog; I didn't make it through without tears=( Kim

Posted: Monday June 14, 2010 04:06 PM


Thank you for speaking of the "elephant in the room." There are so many people who don't understand why anyone would end their own life, until they experience someone they love going through personal battles that take a toll on the person and those whom care about them. I wish people would further their knowledge into the human mind and try and understand that these days are stressful, there's a lot of pressure in this day in age and there needs to be a constructive outlet for those who are finding it hard to cope. My greatest condolences to those who've lost someone due to mental illness as I've lost my best friend and first love. I pray that this topic is faced and not ignored, as being ignorant will only worsen the numbers.

Posted: Friday July 23, 2010 02:07 PM

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...my family is coming through this with the support of PCMH and its members. I have drawn much of my strength from posts I read on this page every day. … Member, PCMH