Were you mesmerized by the images of the newly-discovered black holes -- two "supermassive" holes were just announced in Nature, each 30% larger than anything seen before -- this week? I was, and found staring into the dark, unknowable void utterly hypnotic.
It was a lovely coincidence that this news emerged at the darkest time of the year for those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere. Although the calendar says, "happy, merry," for many people, this is not a joyful season.
Three for instances popped up in the last week. On the same evening, two friends called to report that their teenagers had wailed about wanting to die. The next day, as I stood chatting to a construction worker outside our city's latest luxury condo tower and bemoaning the fact that neither of us will ever be able to afford to live there, he tossed in this comment, "Some of the guys get so depressed about building things for the rich that they think of jumping." And, just yesterday I saw a poster on Toronto's transit system encouraging people who feel suicidal to reach out for help.
Thoughts of ending it all -- not so much our lives, as the deep, unrelenting pain -- are part of the human experience. Yet it's something few people are prepared to talk about. When they do, it's usually in whispered confidences or quickly recanted (my new construction buddy immediately softened his truth telling, "Well, sometimes...").
So, let's talk about suicide. Let's talk about how universal it is. Let's talk about the resources that exist now (in Toronto, for instance, there's the Distress Centre, which is open 24/7, 365 days a year). Let's talk about the resources that are needed. And about how we might help one another. After these three wake-up moments, I kept replaying an old voice message. In the wonderful Elmo-like voice of a five-year-old, my niece recites a ditty she had just learned. "Hug a monkey, hug him tight, hug him 'til he feels alright."
Of course, it's not just the suicidal, but those who suffer from the full range of mental illnesses who struggle at this time of year. I was astonished to discover that patients at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health don't often receive visitors over the holidays, much less gifts. Out of sight, out of mind. So CAMH has come up with a way for people like us to give practical and meaningful gifts to these people -- and send a message of hope to those who need it most, when they most need it!
I'm going to write more about mental health in 2012. I'm eager to do my bit in erasing the stigma that is so strongly attached to such illnesses, and to help kick off a campaign designed to enlighten (as it were) us all. It's the latest clever initiative from Public Inc., a firm that is helping its clients rethink how we give. You might like one they've got running right now -- it's for the David Suzuki Foundation. Called "Where Will Santa Live?" it brings a fresh take to the issue of climate change and its impact on the... North Pole! (It's got the people at Fox all stirred up!)
This is the time of year when people around the world say "No!" to the darkness and welcome the coming of the light. In my tradition, we call it Christmas. Let's really celebrate this year -- and include everyone we can in our tidings of comfort and joy.
Now, dear readers, come into the circle of light by sharing your thoughts and experiences. Have you -- or has anyone you know -- struggled? What resources are available in your community that others should know about? (Yes, books are good, too!) How can we help each other find our way? And what "Festival of Lights" do you and your loved ones celebrate?
Julia Moulden is a speaker, columnist, and author of "RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50", a 12-week course on discovering passion, purpose and possibility at midlife. Check out the video (a.k.a. book trailer!):
Be part of the "RIPE" community on HuffPost, Facebook and Twitter. Or feel free to email me via my website. Together, we are going to change this phase of life!