Yesterday, September 10th, was World Suicide Prevention Day. As a professional who is in touch with people who are affected by suicide on a daily basis, World Suicide Prevention Day is truly a celebration for me. I didn’t make it public and my way of celebrating was to simply take a moment to practice gratitude and remember everything that I stand for in the work I do and the way I live my life. I am grateful for the deep connections I have with people. Yesterday was a celebration of gratitude for the progress we have made in our health systems and for the lives that have been saved through this progress. It’s also a celebration of suffering and an appreciation for how suffering can lead to healing as we learn to overcome it and prepare for a conscious and connected way of both living and dying.
In my reflections and my sharing today, it’s not the specific topic of suicide I wish to expand on. Instead, I wish to share my perspective on issues of social justice. While we have made enormous progress within our health care and social systems, the provision of effective therapeutic practices that are tailored to the individual needs of the people seeking help relies on all other societal systems, including political, economic, and cultural. It essentially all comes down to money and funding. And funding is granted for programs and services that provide evidence that the therapeutic modality is worth investing in for the overall wellness of a population and that it will, in the end, alleviate some of the costs that are incurred when people who are unwell depend on the welfare system to survive. The lines between the provision of healing practices and the commercialization or regulation of these practices become blurred because professionals need to earn a living and anything that is funded by the government, a corporation, or reimbursed by an insurance provider justifiably demands integrity. Healing practices that are complimentary to the medical system are not funded until they have been thoroughly researched and proven to provide the desired outcomes and impacts. They then eventually influence the medical and social service sectors and the research continues.
It may all seem like a bit of jargon. Let me clarify what I mean on a more practical level and explain how what I am saying ties into the social responsibility we have as health care providers and back to the topic of celebrating our progress. The progress we have been making in discovering what works and what doesn’t work to help people overcome suffering is continually being researched. While something is being scientifically studied, it is not yet “evidence-based” and therefore, it is not yet supported by the system. In other words, some of what we now know is most effective in various fields of treatment is only available to those who can pay out of pocket for it. Complimentary or what some call “alternative” medicines, including mindfulness, yoga, acupuncture, various forms of exercise, osteopathy, physiotherapy, nutritional and dietary consultations, and more, then become only accessible for people who have the means to afford them. As research catches up, some of these healing practices have become more regulated and covered by insurance providers for the employed people who are fortunate enough to pay into a benefits plan. This is a huge progress worth recognizing. Counselling, parenting support, holistic addictions treatments, and many other therapies are also slowly becoming covered by governmental health care plans. However, the waitlists are often very long. Again, it relates back to the economy, the distribution of funding, our political systems, and more. Resources are limited. When resources are limited and while researchers are busy trying to prove what works in order to fight for some of the funding, our most vulnerable populations get left behind. Hence, the issues of social justice I am referring to.
As a therapist, I hear people’s stories and I hear the universality of what people live. It doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, Caucasian, Asian, homosexual, heterosexual, etc. Everyone wants connections, everyone wants to contribute, be appreciated, be happy, and to either find peace of mind or minimally end any suffering they live with. In my private practice, some can easily afford a private service with our without reimbursement. In my work in the social services, I earn a salary and there is no thought of a value attached to any hour I spend with my clients – the service is free to them and I am a professional who is compensated through the systems and funding that have made it all possible. The people who teach me the most about social justice, however, are the people who are marginalized and contact me either requesting mindfulness-based counselling in my private practice, yoga classes, or any other non-medical free service because the approach they desire for their own healing is not available to them with the means they have. Some of my clients have been treated through the medical systems for decades and their appointments have simply become shorter and shorter, their medications have been increased, and at best, they have learned to become dependent on a system that has helped them survive. These people come knocking at my door for an approach that will help them thrive, while reducing the medications and increasing their quality of life. Research is catching up and I have faith that the approaches that can compliment the work being done in medical clinics and hospitals will not only be recommended by doctors but paid for through the system.
This is why I open the door to doing pro-bono work with people both in my private practice and in my teaching. This is why I volunteer my time and continually seek to connect with a network of professionals who take on the same responsibility for the overall wellness of our community. And this is why I intentionally remember each day why I do what I do. Over the course of the day yesterday, I found myself wondering about the relationship between these social justice issues and the possible cases of persons who have chosen suicide in the face of feeling discouraged about their own capacity to heal given the means they had at the time.
Happy Belated World Suicide Prevention Day. We have made huge strides and we will continue on this path with the help of the people researching and providing evidence for the modalities that are most effective in overall treatment of disease and suffering.