In the past four months, I have personally known two people who have taken their own lives. During this school year (2019-2020), Blaine High School has lost four students to suicide. In Andover, just under two weeks ago, a 13-year-old girl took her own life. In addition to the survivors that attend my suicide survivor group, these are the seven I’m aware of. Sadly, I know there are more.
I am heartbroken for each of these families; for each of these parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They have got an unbearable future ahead of them. For the rest of their lives. Because grief never ends. And suicide grief is particularly cruel. I wholeheartedly wish we could stop this loss of life and stop the survivors from feeling such pain.
People frequently ask me why I think suicide rates are increasing. I have no specific answer, of course, but I do know that finding the one reason someone takes their own life would be impossible. Suicide is multi-faceted and there is never just one reason someone dies by suicide. Think of the camel’s back — I’ll use my daughter as an example: she was adopted and adoption can cause a trauma-based reaction for many people. She had a learning disability that no one could accurately diagnose. She had social relationship troubles and struggled keeping friendships. For that reason, she was picked on. She was a teen (a tremendous stress in itself). Then one of her best friends was killed. Various other day-to-day struggles occurred. And she had depression and anxiety that she was being treated for. Then one day she and I had an argument. She took her own life. Did I cause that? Absolutely not. It was a culmination of all those things. And in addition, for Ana, her impulsivity played a role. It’s important to realize that suicidal thoughts are frequently temporary. If we can intervene and possibly change any one of those straws that were breaking that camel’s back, lives can be saved.
As individuals, one thing we can do to help is to fight the stigma that accompanies mental illness and suicide. Talk about suicide. Talk about mental illness by describing it for exactly what it is — an illness. Defend the idea that mental health issues are common and they are not the fault of the person who is experiencing them. Encourage people to seek help. Remind them that, if they had trouble with their leg, they’d go to the doctor. And if they’re experiencing trouble with their brain, they should do the same. The more people who discuss their mental health issues, the better. Share your struggles and others will share theirs with you. We’ll all be better off for it. Educate yourself about mental illness. Find current articles from reputable resources. Read them, discuss them, share them on social media.
Put yourself out there. Be open and honest about what you’ve been through. It makes a difference. I know this is true because I practice this. I talk about Ana and her struggles and how it led her to take her own life. And every time I do that, I am making it OK for someone else to tell their story. And frequently they do. If not right that minute, I hear from them later. Because they know I “get it.” The less we hide, the more we learn how alike we are. And the more people realize they are not alone in their mental health struggles, the easier it will be to end the stigma. Stigma will decline when unfamiliarity goes away and struggles with mental health are normalized.
Tell your story today. If you haven’t got one, share Ana’s. Share someone else’s. Be the one who “gets it.” Make a difference.