In the past, I’ve touched on September being Suicide Prevention month. In no way have I been the best educator on suicide prevention but I’ve opened my heart and platform to join others in reducing the stigma associated with mental health and suicide ideation, prevention, attempts, and victims. It is the single most difficult subject which I write about and therefore, I do not write about it often.
For the past ten days I’ve wondering should I write? This year, in particular, the world has lost a lot of average people like you and I and there was an outrage that followed the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Some people were angry that privileged people who succumbed to their demons absorbed so much attention. I think what gets lost is that it was so easy for many people to feel a sense of loss because we’ve grown to know their names and faces, their stories have transformed our own ways of understanding the world and our identities. It is not that their deaths were more important; it was the fact that so many of us felt like we lost a family member, not a public face.
I think this is how we need to understand suicide within our individual cultures and between our cultures. We experience a lot of the same stresses, underlying health conditions, and at times, add traumatic experience(s) on top of an already burdened life, that starting over seems impossible. Each community member in trouble is someone who needs treatment as one would treat a loved family member. There should not be judgement for “failing,” for expressing self-doubt, for “taking the easy way out.”
I am just as guilty for making those mistaken assumptions. I felt that way when news reached me a Marine committed suicide outside my barracks in Iraq. I slept through it. I was too wrapped in my own sense of self to understand I did not know him, I did not know his past, and I did not know what ailed him to think he had no way out of it. It took time to understand and feel compassion and I believe if I grew up in a different world that did not shame people the way we have towards someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts or attempts or lost a family member this way, I would not have made those harsh initial judgements.
But we can start over today. All over the internet and perhaps in your local newspaper, you will find stories of survivors. Take a small chunk out of your day to understand someone else’s life. Read one of these stories. It is difficult for the reader but it is more difficult for the person who has chosen to share his or her story of struggle. He or she is no longer a statistic, but a face and a name.
Last month I learned National Geographic would be covering the story of a suicide survivor. The photos are graphic so think of your surroundings and what you need to read and see someone transformed by trauma. If you cannot finish the article today, thank you for attempting to change your current viewpoint surrounding suicide. I do not judge you if it may take you several tries to read her story and see the photos. (I still cannot bring myself to watch a number of war movies, so I have my own fires to walk through.) Honestly, I’m sweaty just thinking about reading the story from beginning to end and I’ve only skimmed it as I write to you today.
On my deployment our chaplain said to us, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Please keep this advice in mind for any struggles you have and for the struggles of those around you. We do not always see our problems as temporary, but suicide is 100% preventable. When our communities take the time to share a difficult subject like this, it is because there is power in numbers.
Support each other. Educate. Help someone feel valued today. You never know the difference you can make until you try.