The passing on of mental health conditions from parent to child scares me. Will I be faced with a similar crisis that makes me feel as though I want to die by my own hand? Of course, it’s impossible to know what the future holds, but the possibility lingers ever-closer.²⁷ I have long been plagued with chronic depression. Through my own work and learning, I have become more confident when faced with the inevitable deeper lows of my condition, so when faced with similar episodes that my dad experienced, I know what I need to do in order to weather it. In a 2010 study by John Hopkins Medicine, their research determined that a child over the age of 18 that loses a parent to suicide will not be at a higher risk of attempting themselves.²⁸ While such findings bring some peace of mind, I still struggle with my own concerns about the possibility of future mental health crises on the level of my dad’s.
I do agree with the John Hopkins Medicine study: I’m likely old enough now to have broken away from the hereditary storyline, but it also doesn’t feel that simple. I still have my depression tip-toeing around the corners, and it’s hard not to see this as having been passed down in some form. There’s nothing that could have been done about this, so it’s not that I have anger or other such feelings about it, but more so that it makes me wary of the potential of other such mental health concerns. For example, my dad has only been diagnosed with bipolar disorder later in his life, so it’s within the realm of reason that I could receive the same diagnosis for myself as I get older. It’s hard to begin to comprehend such possibilities, since it can be such a slippery slope where dots start to connect a little too easily. So I am trying to approach this information with a certain level of reservation. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I find it scary though.
Outside of hereditary concerns, which do feel at times like a too convenient way to pin blame where there may be no blame to pin, I find suicide statistics to be jarring. In 2018, British Columbia reported 575 deaths by suicide, of which 74% were males, and 56% were between the ages of 30–59.²⁹ Digging deeper, the largest group of suicides in 2018 was in the 50–59 age group, with 128 of the 575 suicides falling within this group.³⁰ Looking more broadly, death by suicide in Canada is three times more prevalent amongst men than it is with women. Additionally, a third of the approximately 4000 suicides in Canada each year are amongst people between 45–59 years old.³¹ So even working outside possible hereditary ties to a suicidal predisposition, I find myself facing an uphill battle, especially given my longstanding relationship with depression.