My biggest sticking point was with society. I idealized society. I saw my city, my community, my province as a place where every citizen could fit in and play their role, from the greatest to the least. My Quebec society was an equitable, just place: in short, I saw life as fair. But the more I delved into the problems of the marginal, the more I saw that our socialist wonderland left many people behind. Real and serious needs were not being addressed. The idea that our society takes its responsibilities towards the marginalized seriously is, sadly, something of a façade.
The year I began my crisis intervention work, the Casino de Montreal opened its doors. It was 1990. The Casino is a glittering jewel on an island in the St. Lawrence River, accessible by bridge, subway and on foot from nearby downtown Montreal. The Casino building is an architectural marvel, a white helix reaching into the sky. At night, it is lit up like a thousand stars, reflecting brilliant light into the shimmering river waters nearby.
It is a working Casino, and a profitable one at that. In its basement there is a morgue. It is a suicide hub. As soon as it opened, Montreal’s crisis intervention community was swamped. Compulsive gamblers lost their shirts. Many gamblers saw suicide as their only way out. These were not the chronically depressed. Here were pillars of society with lives and families – hard working businesspeople in the prime of their careers; seniors who’d never gambled before in their lives and who’d got hooked by the glittering lights of the slot machines… Middle-class citizens throwing away their life savings a few dollars at a time, their logic swamped by a new compulsion…
A problem never shows up to the party alone. In the crisis intervention community, we quickly realized one thing: behind the gambler’s urge to commit suicide lies loneliness, or emotional dependency, or an introvert’s struggle to express despair, or… Those who showed up at our doorstep who had lost their life savings at the Casino had deeper issues underlying their compulsive gambling.
Even if we could save a life today and send that person home, it never prevented their deeper issues from reappearing, at some later date, in some form of compulsive behavior.
The hemorrhage would re-emerge. We had to identify the deeper scar.
For this, the most important tool at our disposal is always the human ear. Listen to people.
Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT
Suicide Prevention Hotlines:
Québec: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553). CLSCs can also help you.
Canada: Canada Suicide Prevention Service 833-456-4566
U.S.: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).