When Silence Doesn't Cut It
    By Enrico Uva | January 5th 2013 03:12 PM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

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    Almost twenty years ago, when I was working at a private school in Montreal, I was approached by a bearded fellow wearing a name tag. It was the first day of school for staff, and that's what our school did with their new teachers so that older staff members could learn the names of newcomers more easily. I was not exactly the life of the party either, but there was something unusual about this fellow. We exchanged a few forgettable words that were probably interrupted by the more familiar sight of someone who I had not seen all summer long.

    A few weeks later I saw him again on his way to the metro. He was carrying what seemed like a heavy schoolbag in each hand. "You sure bring home a lot of work," I commented. He mentioned that he had taken on an extra course; effectively it amounted to 2 or 3 periods beyond the normal workload. It did not seem to me like a recommended option for a first year teacher. 

    A few days after that short conversation, I met him again while waiting for the train. He asked me, "What do you do when you get home to relax?" It seemed like a random question, but I obliged and shared with him my habit of downing a beer with cashews. "Beer and cashews," he repeated with a glazed look. "Yeah," I said. "You should try it." Maybe a month later, I met him again while trying to mentally calculate if I was sitting at one of the foci below an elliptical roof of the metro station. It seemed like the conversation of people on the other side was being amplified because no matter where the sound waves bounced off, they all traveled the same distance as they reached me, and so the waves were all arriving in phase.

    "I heard that a lot of people kill themselves in the metro," he uttered in a flat tone.I did not know what to make of his comment and merely pointed out that many subway-suicide attempts were unsuccessful; they resulted in crippling injuries. It seemed like news to him, and I left at that. I don't think we said anything to each other afterwards. 

    Not more than two weeks passed. In the locker room after school, I arrived in the middle of an emotional conversation between the principal of our school's French sector and a colleague. The fellow with two school bags had not reported to work for a few days. His brother had been called. After opening his sibling's apartment door, he found him on the living room floor. The young teacher had fatally shot himself. I was devastated. Recounting what he had told me in the subway, I shared my story with the principal a lifetime after the fact.


    Really, it would have been far worse for someone who was wobbling, in a mental health sense, to have morose behavior suddenly make him a target of (well-meaning) interventions.  It would have made him even more reclusive, he probably would have been scrutinized and lost his job.

    Mental health issues are a roll of the dice. There is some chance he would have been anti-social and morose forever, there is some chance he would have gotten over it, but there is no chance taking action based on his behavior was going to save him if he did not want to be saved. If there were a formula for fixing or saving people with mental health issues, the field would be a lot more credible than it is.
    I found out years later from people who knew him from high school that he had suffered from depression since his teens. His work peers were in the dark, but other acquaintances and family members certainly were not. But that doesn't excuse the silence because I didn't have that information when it happened.
    Ditto Hank.

    I've known a few people who suicided, and I've gone through some depression myself without ever ending it all. There isn't any obvious distinction. The people who ended it all had considerable positive input, a good love life, and some interventions; while I and others who pulled out of the depressive years didn't have any positive inputs.

    I'm tempted to conclude that the positive input and "love life" are actually negative factors, causing the depressed person to notice the steep gradient, as in.... "If I'm still feeling worthless with girls literally clustering around my feet, I must be REALLY worthless." The sensory system is all about deltas and gradients, ignoring steady states. It's a HP filter.

    The sensory system is all about deltas and gradients, ignoring steady states.
    That's a good point.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Very sad.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at

    I read this article yesterday, and it makes me sad, but I still can’t think of any wise words to add to what other people have said.

    However, I was struck by the noisy environment of that Metro station.  I find it difficult to sustain even a trivial conversation against a background of crowd noise, and I know of one or two places where the architecture makes it that much worse.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    However, I was struck by the noisy environment of that Metro station.
    That station was not that busy, at least at the time. Many students were picked up by parents or left the school at various times due to after-school activities. Also I don't for certain if the time I noticed the foci -effect really coincided with the occasion when I spoke to the fellow. I took a chance to include it to sneak a little more science into what would have been a science-less blog.

    Well, one of my best friends killed himself a few hours after our last conversation on the phone... And we all knew he was depressed... And he mentioned thoughts of suicide... Well, certain things just can not be learned to be recognized or to be dealt with before after the fact, we can't do anything about it really... But once that lesson's learned - it's learned...

    I think it speaks well of the individual who observes such on the part of someone that is not well known to them, then afterwards ponders what could have been done to prevent the loss of life. Those individuals exercising this level of concern will occasionally have an opportunity to test the conclusions of this thought process, but for most, the infrequency of interaction with suicidal individuals who they are unfamiliar with combined with the social dictates of politness and respect for the other persons privacy will prevent timely recognition of the situation and, subsequently, effective preventive action.

    Recurring depression since teens, pressures at work, and probably some present personal problems plus being ignored by peers when crying out for help may have been too much for him. Your lack of background information about the person is normal for we usually mind our own business and that personal things are at individual discretion that we don't have the right to intrude. 
    I believe that schools should also reach out to their faculty members, at the psychological aspects, understanding the needs of their teachers, not just on matter of teaching but on matter within the context that teachers are humans with needs. I wonder if your school has this program on counseling not just students but teachers as well.

    That specific school had nothing of the sort for teachers. Presently at our school the situation is slightly better. There is one free counselor available through the union, but he serves about 3000 teachers!
    This article also reminds me that I have many things like that which trouble me.

    Just now I came across the Collects of Thomas Cranmer*, and this one in particular:

    Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid and giving unto us that which our prayer dare not presume to ask; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


    * Thomas Cranmer wrote and compiled the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, a complete liturgy for the Church of England.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England