A Calgary city councillor tweeted about his personal struggles with years of suicidal bouts, for the first time, on World Suicide Prevention Day and says it’s time to fight the stigma.
“I just broke the back of a 4.5 yr deep depression, with many days where suicide was close. People are struggling all around us,” Brian Pincott wrote on the social media platform.
Pincott says beyond very close friends, he had not previously shared his experience publicly.
“I am learning how to talk about it,” the councillor told CBC News on Sunday.
“I have suffered from depression since I was 16 or 17. I have never talked about it. It hasn’t served me to not talk about it, as the bouts of depression get deeper and longer.”
He says his most recent bout with self-destructive feelings has lasted almost five years now, but in the middle of it, in 2014, news that actor-comedian Robin Williams had died by suicide hit him hard.
“At its worst, I described it to my psychologist one day, I said, ‘In the picture of my life, I don’t exist,'” he said.
“As I went further and further down the hole, not recognizing that I was getting further and further down the hole, I started doing things like peeling off family, having no contact with family. Then I peeled off friends and had no contact with friends to try and survive.”
He says he lost 35 pounds and focused completely on his work.
“Brian, the person, stopped existing and Brian, the councillor, was the only thing left in my life,” he said.
“If I can just concentrate on my job, on Brian the councillor, at least there will be one group of people that I will try not to let down, to disappoint, and I will be able to survive in some way.”
But later that year, Pincott did confide in his family doctor and a psychologist, who together convinced him to consider prescription medication options, which he had until then resisted.
“For a period of a-year-and-a-half to two years after that, I think I saw my family doctor, on average, every two weeks. We went through nine versions of medication. I saw psychiatrists and psychologists and I am thankful that I had a doctor who was tenacious, who didn’t give up on me when I was ready. In 2015/2016, when I was ready to give up, I didn’t care anymore, I had a doctor who wasn’t ready to give up and she kept working at it.”
By early 2017 he felt better equipped to handle things.
“My goal now is to work with her to have the tools in place to be able to interrupt the cycle earlier as opposed to when you are sliding too deeply down the hole,” Pincott said.
He’s far from alone in struggling with suicide and mental health issues.
Men 3X more likely to die by suicide
Statistics Canada reports 3,890 Canadians died by suicide in 2009, suicide rates among men were three times higher than women, people between 40 and 59 had the highest rates and single people have higher rates than those with partners.
Suicide is also a leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 34.
A nationally syndicated longevity columnist has said gender stereotypes and expectations don’t help the matter.
“I am generalizing here but typically women and younger men are able to discuss challenges more openly, get support that way,” Sharon Basaraba told Daybreak Alberta in November.
“That might not really be true for middle-aged men, in their 40s and 50s. They are kind of the sandwich generation, emulating their fathers, that kind of stoicism, be strong, it is a weakness to admit that you are vulnerable, that you have lost your job, you define yourself that way.”
Brandy Payne, Alberta’s associate health minister, says Pincott was brave to speak out.
“I’m grateful for those who’ve come forward to share their experiences,” Payne said in a statement to CBC News.
“And I hope that hearing these personal stories helps fight the shame surrounding mental illness. We can all be a part of the conversation around mental health and suicide.”
For Pincott, the issue will always be there, but it’s a matter of learning to face it head on.
“I feel stronger. It is something that I can raise awareness about to break down the stigma because stigma doesn’t serve anybody,” Pincott said.
“Stigma leads to suicide, stigma leads to self-medication and doesn’t serve anybody. It sure as hell didn’t serve me.”
Pincott says the issue is not related to his decision to not run for city council in the upcoming election, but that his doctor is not unhappy with that decision.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, there are resources available. In Calgary, call the Distress Centre at 403-266-HELP (4357). In Alberta and the rest of Canada, call 1-877-303-2642.