By Kevin Mitchell
*Check out discussion questions after article
My first and only attempt at suicide didn’t go well. I swallowed a handful of sleeping pills and took two or three gulps of whisky before lying on my bed waiting to join the abyss.
Nothing happened. I was a failure. Shortly after, my mom and youngest brother came home and quickly noticed what I had done. My dad was called, and we were soon in emergency waiting for help.
I hugged my mom and dad and we all cried as doctors pumped my stomach with charcoal and got rid of the sleeping pill-whisky concoction. Soon, the room was full of some of my best friends and after a few conversations, I was wheeled into the psych unit.
I had reached this point by crashing and burning as the 20-year-old sports editor at the Kelowna Courier. I was the youngest such sports editor in Thomson Newspapers.
I lived in a bachelor suite overlooking the laundry room. There were no windows. I didn’t know how to cook so ate out every night. I was pushing myself as sports editor while partying hard whenever possible with employees of the Kelowna Capital News.
At that same time, two radio sportscasters took some runs at my work and I didn’t handle this bullying well.
After being prescribed some tranquilizers because I wasn’t sleeping, I called my boss and told him I was going home to Vernon to get some help.
My time in the psych unit, complete with nightly anti-depressants, lifted my spirits and I was doing okay. I didn’t really understand what happened to me; and my mom, who had experienced a major bout of depression as a nurse, never told her four boys that depression ran in the family.
I pulled out of the depression and landed a few jobs before getting hired as a reporter at the Vernon Daily News. I loved this job and had no signs of depression.
When I turned 22, head office phoned and transferred me to the Nanaimo Daily Free Press. It was a major sporting town and I pressed hard to cover every sport going on, especially in the huge Monday edition.
Things went smoothly for 11 years, covering the Trevor Berbick-Gordie Racette British Commonwealth fight and doing radio analysis for the Western Hockey League Nanaimo Islanders. There were several other elite sports on my daily menu.
For five or six years, I also served as city editor when our regular city editor was on his annual vacation, handling a vibrant newsroom of about 10.
The day came they wanted me to serve as city editor while also being sports editor and covering nightly news meetings, with stories required to be turned in first thing in the morning.
I started fading. I was supposed to read to an elementary school primary class, but my whole body was shaking with anxiety. I was going nowhere. Here we were again with my dark friend, depression. I was off for three months and then my wife, Linda, suggested we move to Edmonton, where her folks lived.
Journey to Recovery
I started making a decent recovery while staying with Linda’s folks. She went back to work, and I minded our two-year-old daughter, Kristi. We played every morning before I walked her to playschool. I played golf with some good friends and took in some Triple A Trapper baseball games. This routine was defeating depression and I was back to normal after a few months.
Sadly, Linda and I decided to separate at Christmas so I moved back to Vernon for a change of pace, hopeful that the depression wouldn’t return.
I did some freelance writing for the Kelowna Courier for nine months. I then was hired by The Vernon Morning Star along with my brother, Glenn. I went on to spend a joyful 27 years as sports editor, with my brother alongside me as managing editor.
I covered two Skins Games at Predator Ridge with the likes of superstars Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir, and Sergio Garcia. Those were fantastic fun to watch and write about.
The Vernon Lakers/Vipers dominated the B.C. Junior Hockey League and claimed a couple of Royal Bank Cups. Great coaches and extraordinary players.
We had an infectious sense of fun in the newsroom and with sales staff, with Christmas parties always being a blast. Every two or three years, we put in a wacky lawn chair drill team in the Vernon Winter Carnival parade. I was the lead with a lawn chair and my cohorts walked behind me and copied all my zany moves as I sat down and opened the paper and twirled the chair in a circle. We were a massive hit!
A few years ago, new management stepped in and made drastic changes. Many staff members struggled to come to terms with this new way of doing things, but Glenn especially had a difficult time and was undermined at every turn. When his editor’s job was cut, he fell into a deep depression that forced him to step away from the work he loved.
A few others followed Glenn into the editor’s job, and they too took a tumble. I was angry, but still loved the work I was doing and wasn’t ready to leave.
But I hated seeing Glenn in a world of hurt, and my compassion for him eventually had me join him in depression land, forcing me to take a leave from my sports editor position. Glenn took his own life just before Christmas of 2020 and our family has never been the same.
Early in my time off, I suffered from severe depression and went up against a black box that cared for nobody. I slept in late and hardly ate. I thought again about suicide and ways I could end my life.
I dug deep enough to choose life and received unwavering support from my wife, Stacy. We went on regular walks, played pickleball, and read regularly. A two-week holiday to Mazatlán helped my brain fog lift.
My psychiatrist urged me to get regular exercise no matter how bad I felt, get together with friends and family for conversation, and read books of all sorts. All three suggestions lifted my depression to different levels.
Today, I’m 66 and still on medication, but can play hockey, soccer, tennis, and pickleball, and do regular hikes with friends.
I’m in year three of fighting depression for the third time and although life is tough, it’s certainly worth living.
As to the importance of sharing my story, I concur with Andrew Jensen, a Canadian professional golfer, who told HeadsUpGuys, “I believe my emotional scars are no different than my physical ones. I believe it’s just as masculine to talk about overcoming emotional pain as it is to talk about overcoming physical pain.”
In a Hockey Talks video, an NHL forward shared his own struggle with depression: “For me, just accepting and saying out loud that I was diagnosed with depression and had a mental health issue that was the first weight off my shoulders.”
And I concur 100 per cent.
Kevin Mitchell has been a professional writer for newspapers and magazines for 45 years. His love for journalism began in high school when he was editor of both the school paper and yearbook.
Helping Someone in Crisis
Talking honestly, responsibly, and safely about suicide can help you determine if someone needs help.
- Listen and show concern. This can be an immediate way to help someone and won't increase the risk of suicide. It may save a life!
- Talk with them and reassure them that they're not alone.
- Let them know you care.
- Encourage him/her to seek help from a family doctor, counsellor, or trusted person such as a family member, friend, neighbour, or elder.
- Provide crisis line contact info.
If you or someone you know is affected by depression, start by contacting your family doctor. There are also numerous resources available by phone or online, including:
- 8-1-1, the free health information and advice phone line operated by HealthLink BC through the Ministry of Health
- Here to Help B.C.
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
- Mood Disorders Society of Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health
If you are or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or suicide-related behaviour, help is available. Connect with a crisis responder 24 hours a day by calling 1-833-456-4566 or text to 45645 between 4:00 p.m. and midnight, Eastern time.
The questions below will help stimulate discussion among family members, friends, groups of seniors, and with health care providers.
- The first sentence of this story gets the reader’s attention. What does it tell you about the man who wrote it? How did it make you feel when you first read it?
- Kevin had family support. What might have happened if he had not?
- What were the factors that led him to attempting suicide?
- Kevin was aware of what had happened to lead to the suicide attempt. How did that help him to recover?
- What role do you think genetics plays in mental health? Does your family have a history of mental health challenges?
- What does the story tell you about Kevin as a person, family member, friend, professional writer, co-worker, and community member?
- What do you think led to his second episode of anxiety and depression?
- What helped his recovery that time?
- How did changes at work affect his mental health later in life?
- How was Kevin affected by his brother’s suicide?
- What is Kevin doing now that makes life worth living?
- What roles do positive lifestyle choices play in dealing with mental health challenges?
- Do you think men have more difficulty talking about personal issues like mental health than women do? If so, why might that be?
- If you or someone close to you had signs of depression, where do you think you could look for help to recover?
- Is there a person or particular group of people who would benefit by you sharing this story of healing?
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Consider the Numbers
- Every day in Canada, more than 200 people attempt suicide. Of those, about 12 people die, meaning the annual total of people lost to suicide is about 4,500. Tragically, many more experience serious depression, suicidal ideation, and/or suicide attempts.
- For every death by suicide, at least seven to ten survivors are significantly affected by the loss.
- In Canada, the following groups have higher rates or risk of suicide:
- While women have higher rates of self-harm, which can be a risk factor for suicide, deaths are about three times higher among men.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults (15-34 years).
- Up to 20 percent of seniors, or as many as 1.4 million people, report being depressed and/or anxious.
- More than 10 percent of seniors seriously consider suicide in a given year.
- While the overall death rate by suicide for seniors is about 11 percent per 100,000, the rate for men 85 and older is 29 per 100,000.
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