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In memory of Jessica Anderson

31 March 2017

I am writing this post with sadness in my heart. My daughter Jessica (38 years old) took her own life in our home on January 28 of this year. Jessica has had a long history of depression. Jessica's first attempt at suicide was at 15 years old. At age 25, she again attempted suicide. Jessica has spent the last five years of her life with Penny and me with daily expressions of love and laughter. We thought that she was in a good place, but alas, that was not so. Her death left us with inconsolable grief for several weeks. This was followed by expressions of guilt. Maybe we could have said something or done something more to change the outcome. This was followed by anger. How could she have been so wrong in her decision to end her life? Since that time on January 28, Penny and I have cycled through these emotions of grief, guilt and anger. With time we cry less and heal more but the devastation in our lives will always be there to some extent as the years pass.

The reason that I am sharing this story is three fold. First, I have been writing on the wellness subject and how the College and the BC Dental Association have embarked on the assisting of members of our profession who suffer from addiction. This is on the same theme of how people deal with depression. Second, I have been touched by how many people have come up to Penny and me to express their condolences at our loss but who have shared the same experience of suicide, be it with a family member or friend. Third, by bringing this topic out in the open, it is my hope that having created an open forum of discussion on this subject of suicide, that the negative stigma might be taken away from this affliction and prevent this action from happening to a child or adult due to a new found understanding of society.

Most of us think suicide is something that happens to strangers – not to people we know. The US Centres for Disease Control says the age-adjusted suicide rate in the US increased 24% from 1999 to 2014. According to Statistics Canada, mental illness is the most important risk factor for suicide; and that more than 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental or addictive disorder. Depression is the most common illness among those who die from suicide, with approximately 60% suffering from this condition.

Under the high stress of dentistry and life, I have struggled with depression several times in my 43-year-career. I have had love and understanding and help to get me through these episodes of depression. In the dental class ahead of me a dentist died by suicide. In the dental class behind me a dentist died by suicide. In my class a classmate died by suicide. The son of a classmate died by suicide at the age of 22. A College staff member shared with me that she had two people in her life who had died by suicide. This story of suicide has been repeated to me countless times by so many individuals as they share their grief and understanding with me following Jessica's death.

What is wrong with everyone? Everyone needs more love. When the pain of living becomes too great, more often than suicide an individual will resort to numbing the pain with drugs or alcohol. Drug addiction may be a symptom of a greater problem. Identifying this issue is the first step.

As I look around our profession there are several of you who are in crisis. There is at least one individual who, under the stress of life, is dealing with the pain of living and is in crisis. Realize that one in four in our profession have feelings of being alone and are in stress.

If you are feeling alone or not feeling awesome, you are not alone, you are not weird, you are not odd, you are not different, you are not broken, and you are not weak. You are with family. We are all one and we are all human and we are all the same.

Whether it is in your church group or the staff room in your office, whether it is in your family or fraternity, whether it is in the team that you manage or in your online community, when you go out and talk about suicide and drug addiction and do not gloss over it and don't flinch, you make people feel better about it. It is my hope that by talking about suicide that we may be able to get those individuals the right kind of help. That is how you can save lives.

The monster is the isolation. Isolation is what kills. We are not wired for isolation, we are wired for love.


"Depression: let's talk" is the theme of the United Nations World Health Day on April 7. The Canadian Mental Health Association – BC Division offers resources for those who need help in emergency and crisis situations, if you need someone to talk to right away, and in your community. CDSBC registrants and their families can access additional assistance and support through several programs, including BCDA's Dental Profession Advisory Program and CDSPI's Member Assistance Program.

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