Special Report: Breaking the Silence
Published Wednesday, November 18, 2009 6:22PM EST
Quebec has the highest suicide rate of all the provinces in Canada, and for every person who kills themselves, 20 other people attempt it.
Jill Salomon knows the statistics all too well, and says she has seen the darkest depths of despair.
Salomon's younger sister, Wendy, took her own life 18 years ago, at the age of 28.
To this day, Salomon says her capacity to experience joy is limited.
"I'm not allowed to be happy, and when I feel happy I feel guilty."
Her sister was a university graduate who suffered from bipolar disorder, a psychiatric illness that causes extreme changes in mood -- ranging from mania to depression.
Despite struggling with the illness, the young woman was charming and seemed to enjoy life.
"Wendy was adorable. She had this little button nose, these sweet eyes, a great sense of humour," says Salomon.
But Wendy was suffering in silence.
"The psychiatrist said, 'You know Wendy's happy, everything's good, she's smiling, she's laughing, she's joking,' ... and then like a week later she was dead," Salomon recalls.
Five years ago, Salomon was forced to relive through the pain and grief that she experienced after losing her sister.
Danny, their baby brother, killed himself at the age of 40.
Salomon describes him as someone who grew from an awkward teenager into a handsome, successful and loving family man.
"He always had a lot of friends, and he loved music. I think he possessed the sensitivity that my sister had but he didn't express it."
Salomon vividly recalls the day when she learned the devastating news.
"It was a Thursday afternoon and I was home and the phone rang and it was my mother and she was crying, she was sobbing, and she said, 'Jill, Danny's dead," ... and I fell to the floor and I collapsed."
Like his sister Wendy, Danny was suffering from depression.
Dr. Brian Bexton, president of the Quebec Association of Psychiatry, says people suffering from mental illness are statistically the most likely to take their own lives.
"We know that suicide is related 80 to 90 percent of the time to depression," he says.
In the case of bipolar disease, Bexton says it's important to watch the swings.
"Even if someone is feeling good ... we have to watch out and try to prevent the downs just afterwards."
Bexton urges anyone feeling any form of depression to reach out for help.
He admits finding a psychiatrist can take six months to a year in Quebec, but says a family doctor or even the CLSC can provide help.
Men and suicide
Every day in Quebec, three or four people commit suicide -- making it the province with the highest suicide rate in Canada.
The most recent stats from 2007 show that of 1,091 people who took their lives in Quebec, 80 percent were men.
Brian Mishara, who researches suicide at UQAM, says men don't tend to share their problems as easily as women.
"I think we have a long way to go to change the sort of macho image of the American hero at the end of the film who all by himself saves the world and doesn't need help from anyone else," says Mishara.
Breaking the silence
Bruno Marchand, head of Quebec's Association of Suicide Prevention, believes it's time to start talking about the taboo topic.
"People who commit suicide don't want to die, they want to kill their pain," he says.
Talking about that pain may prevent people from ending their own lives.
Research shows that while the numbers of suicides in Quebec are staggering, over the last decade, they've been dropping at a rate of about four percent per year.
Suicide Action Montreal is a frontline resource and support centre.
It's a confidential bilingual help line that's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Trained volunteers take calls from people thinking about killing themselves, families and friends trying to stop a suicide, and people who've lost someone to suicide.
"Sometimes one phone call, one conversation with someone can make an entire difference," says volunteer Jean-Claude Daoust.
After volunteers ask a series of questions to assess the person's state of mind, they're directed to the proper resource.
"Sometimes people realize, 'I need medication to get out of my depression, I need to see someone,' and if we help them to find the right resource, the right help for their problem, that's going to make a difference," says Brigitte Lavoie, who also takes calls for the organization.
Statistics show that half of the people who kill themselves have drugs or alcohol in their system.
If the person calling for help is intoxicated and is suicidal, it's considered a code red and 911 is called.
Salomon says moving on and healing after losing her brother and sister has been a monumental emotional struggle.
"They're gone and you miss them, and you love them, and you never forget them, and you wish they were here."
She says she's still seeking answers, but believes that sharing her story might finally give purpose to her devastating journey.
"If I learned anything from the deaths of my siblings -- for all the pain and the suffering that I went through and the soul searching and torment and the despair -- I learned that there's always tomorrow...and that's all we have."
If you, or someone you know, needs help, contact Suicide Action Montreal at 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553)
You can also visit their website at http://www.suicideactionmontreal.org/