I belong to a fairly exclusive “invitation-only” group on Facebook – one you must be vetted first in order to join. It’s a group no one seeks membership to, but once accepted everyone is so thankful to be a member. This “elite” group is for those who have lost a spouse or partner to suicide and every single day new survivors join our group. I read their introductions: “Please welcome… who lost her husband/his wife/their partner on…” Every single day – sometimes multiple times per day. I read their sadness, their pleas for help, their confusion, their “what if’s” and their “if only’s”. Honestly, some days I just “can’t,” it’s too much, it’s too hard, and then there are days where I’m the one who is lost and seeking their hard-won wisdom, their compassion, their understanding – clarity from the scarred. No one wants to be a member of this group, but we’re grateful it exists. It’s a place where we can safely show our wounds – our sadness – without being repeatedly shut-down with, “you should go see a counselor.” It’s a place we can say freely, “I desperately miss my person,” and be ok with remembering times when our loved one wasn’t reduced to just one single, horrific event.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and we need to talk frankly about suicide and how you can help.
The fact is, I wasn’t planning on starting a walk group this year. Right now, there are so many very worthy causes – so many people in pain – so many people in need of assistance. Then I read a post from one of my fellow survivors – a woman who was told by her partner’s family to stop mentioning how he died because it brought the family shame.
I was absolutely appalled, but not particularly surprised by the family’s reaction.
The stigma associated with suicide is very common, and it compounds the complicated grief felt by we survivors. The truth is, we do not get the same support from our community (friends/family) as we would have had our loved one died any other way. Our loved one’s death was an embarrassment – a reason for great shame. Their deaths should be hidden, tucked away, never to be spoken of again – as if the mere acknowledgment of how they died would encourage the visit of the ugly specter of suicide to visit their own house.
And we need to stop that.
We stop that by openly talking about suicide and by talking about mental health issues. We stop telling those suffering and in need of mental health services that they are “weak” when they express the need for counseling, or psychiatric intervention. It is not, nor has it ever been, a weakness or flaw in constitution to need mental health services, much like it isn’t a weakness or flaw if I have the flu. If I break my arm, I need a doctor. No one questions that. By that same token, if I have a chemical imbalance that affects my brain such as suffering from clinical depression, I need to see a mental health specialist. That’s where we fail in our understanding (and compassion) as a society.
That must change.
..and those changes happen when we’re willing to talk openly about suicide and mental health issues.
It changes when we recognize that mental health services are as important as physical health services. It changes when we stop stigmatizing suicide – when we stop stigmatizing mental health issues. It changes when it doesn’t occur to us to ask a person whose spouse/partner/child/parent/friend died by suicide to “please not mention it.”
So, here I am again asking you to walk with me on October 24th to raise awareness. This is a virtual walk between 9AM – 1PM – you choose the location. To join the Jay Walkers click here. If you raise $100 on behalf of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I will send you one of our fine Jay Walkers 2020 team t-shirts.
If you can’t walk (and even if you can), please consider making a donation to AFSP at our Jay Walker’s team site here.
Whatever you do, I need you to commit to talking about mental health issues, to supporting those who have been affected by suicide, and to never attempt to silence someone from talking about their loss of a loved one to suicide. (… and a very personal note, I need you to commit to never saying or suggesting the person who died by suicide was “selfish” – no, my friend, they had a mental health crisis and could not see any other escape from their tremendous pain.)
Let’s endeavor to be more compassionate and to make a difference.
I’m leaving you with some of the latest facts/figures from the CDC:
There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
- In 2017 (latest available data), there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S.
- Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States.
- Every day, approximately 129 Americans take their own life.
- Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
- There are 3.54 male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.
- 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide.
25 million Americans suffer from depression each year.
- Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
- Depression affects nearly 5-8 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year.
- More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
- Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
The best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.
*Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Let’s make a commitment right now to have open, frank, and honest discussions about mental health issues and about suicide.
I’ve been thinking about you all week.
Hard to believe these days that any family member would even dare to think that “shame” phrase m much less say it. Maybe the speaker is afraid others think it is their fault – guilt. But really
Sometimes there is so much pain a person just can’t bend against the torrent any more. At this point, there is so little help – so little chance to find a cause or real answer what causes it – much less how to fix it.
There is no fault. Only great sadness.
Depression, despair, and mental disfunction seems to be everywhere right now. Probably the underlying reason ( and reasonable people keep lying about it ) why crime, riots, and murders are overwhelming society. More beds for those in crisis …even before the virus there were never enough – helps for families who call when someone is breaking down ( like temporary holds and more beds).
But the most tragic are the ones who few suspect – who portray a “strong” person in public when inside they are crumbling – even though they are fighting it.
More sun. More windows in buildings – and ones that open, more green spaces.Mandated days off – and even better if trips to wild places are scheduled. Less screens and social media. More dogs allowed…OK cats and bunnies, too. More singing out loud, silly entertainment written for laughter, not social messaging. More smile offered
Those won’t help everyone, but maybe shore up temporarily for one more day. Day by day. Sometimes that the best that can be hoped for – that and someone else beside who never says “shame”
Bless you, kid. You’re tough. Hang in there. Jay would want you to
HUG and soft paw cheek from and aging but gallant RC Cat…she apologizes for the paw dirt the dog left from the not so gentle dog whack..
I think it’s exactly what you’re suggesting – I think that “shame” comes from guilt and worrying other people will assign blame. The people left behind after a suicide are typically riddled with guilt as we try to work out what we could/should have done and didn’t. We can list each point where we failed our person. It’s awful. Even with Jay’s note that said “it’s no one’s fault” all of us left behind harbored deep seeded beliefs of, “hey, you’re not getting off that easily – you could have… why didn’t you…? He’d still be here if you only…” and we believe we should have been the superheroes who could have single-handedly defeated his depression.
I just got back from Colorado, and had stopped into this cute little shop. There was a sticker laying at the counter that I wanted to pick-up along with my purchase. It sat near a can that said “stickers are free with any donation.” I asked the owner about the cause in question, and she said, “When the pandemic started there were a number of suicides that occurred in our town, and this money is to help address and prevent those in the future.” I donated because it seemed like it was placed in my path for a reason.
I almost didn’t create a fundraiser this year, because as I mentioned there are so many worthy causes who need support. For me, the Food Bank is a big one. Then a good friend of mine sent me a gift that was waiting for me when I returned from Colorado – a box of affirmation cards. The day I wrote this post, and I created the fundraiser, I had received a card that had to do with the legacies we leave behind – this idea that while we will only walk this earth a short time, we can live on in what we create. I was having a, “I’m not creative” moment “what can I possibly leave behind” and then I thought, “you have a voice – something not everyone feels they have – something not everyone uses – use your voice to make a difference.” So, while my words are not perfect, and you won’t find me standing on Capitol Hill or sitting in a Senate Hearing advocating for better mental health care – I CAN try to affect change in my small corner of the world.
Because at the end of the day, we need more of the things you so beautifully described:
“More sun. More windows in buildings – and ones that open, more green spaces. Mandated days off – and even better if trips to wild places are scheduled. Less screens and social media. More dogs allowed…OK cats and bunnies, too. More singing out loud, silly entertainment written for laughter, not social messaging. More smile offered
Those won’t help everyone, but maybe shore up temporarily for one more day. Day by day. Sometimes that the best that can be hoped for – that and someone else beside who never says “shame””
… and more regal soft cheek pats from aging feline royalty – even when the dog has whacked her with dirt (they’re perfectly uncivilized beasts, but do serve some purpose (though quite unknown) and staff seems to enjoy them – no accounting for bad taste 🙂 ).
You are a beautiful soul who allows us to see the world in new ways. Thank you for all that you do, and for always sticking by me. I appreciate you.