(TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE, METHODOLOGY)
Dear Georges Laraque,
I am deeply saddened by yesterday’s events. Not by the fact that you blocked me on Twitter – I wasn’t Following your account, in any event – but saddened by what blocking me says about your understanding of mental illness, suicide and stigma.
Don’t get me wrong, Georges, I truly feel for you. What sports fan cannot relate to the heart wrenching loss of a favoured team? Where I feel no empathy is in your choice of words to express the agony you felt in France’s Euro Cup 2016 defeat at the hands of a Ronaldo-less Portugal.
“Je vais me pendre.”
And for the bilingually-challenged, you even made a point of repeating this message through a second tweet, this time in the language of Shakespeare:
“I’m gonna hang myself.”
That’s what you said, Georges. Word for word. Not once, but twice.
You suggested that your words were just a common expression, a figure of speech. Not one that I’ve ever heard, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. We don’t exactly travel in the same circles.
Now, I’m a reasonable fellow. I truly believe there was no ill-intent on your part. And I also believe you when you say you weren’t being serious. But by the same token, you also said you weren’t joking about or mocking suicide.
You see, Georges, that’s the whole point of why people are upset about these tweets of yours. Regardless of your intent, the opposite of being serious is being light-hearted. Funny. Flippant. Trivial. Pick your own antonym.
Every single day, we lose 11 Canadians to suicide, primarily due to untreated mental illness. That’s almost 4,000 people in Canada every year, leaving an estimated 32,000 loved ones behind to grieve. They deserve more from a public figure like you than light-hearted, flippant “figures of speech” that allude to the painful loss of a loved one.
So yes, I called you on it on Twitter. As I have called out many others and will continue to do so. The only way we can S.T.O.P. the stigma around suicide and mental illness is by calling out the use of language that Stereotypes, Trivializes, Offends or Patronizes people living with mental health issues. Because stigma leads to the shame, isolation and despair at the root of suicide.
In your heart, you know I and others were right to call you on it. Or you wouldn’t have subsequently deleted your trivial tweets and related replies. Thank you for that, by the way. Recognizing the cause of an issue – and trying to limit the harm caused – is half the battle.
But here’s the other half to complete your act of contrition: put out publicly a heartfelt, sincere apology to the survivors of suicide loss for your poor choice of words. Use your public platform to promote suicide prevention.
And become known as a different type of Enforcer, one who lays down the law on language that stigmatizes suicide and mental illness.