The question never ends: Why?
Every answer is only a guess. The only person who knows for sure is gone forever.
The “why” eats away at the survivors, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
Some 44,000 people in the United States take their lives each year. We’ve all lost somebody to suicide. We just don’t talk about it. It’s time we did. It’s time we end the silence, stigma and shame of suicide.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so let’s talk about suicide.
My sons lost a dear uncle to suicide a few years ago on Christmas Eve.
My husband lost two cousins to suicide.
My cousin’s daughter took her life when she was 16 after struggling with bipolar disorder for years.
My dear friend Heidi took her life at 44 after years of alcoholism and drug addiction. I was hiking in Euclid Creek Park the day after they found a body there. It turned out that’s where she went to take the heroin that killed her. She left behind three sons, all teenagers.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. Or they have a family history of suicide, substance use, a serious or chronic medical illness, a history of trauma, prolonged stress or a recent tragedy or loss.
There’s so much misunderstanding around suicide. When actor Robin Williams took his life at age 63, people were stunned. He was so happy. He had so much to live for. Why would someone with fame, money and all that talent want to kill himself?
To stop the pain that no one else can see.
Wealth and fame can’t stop the pain. Fashion designer Kate Spade hanged herself in 2018. Celebrity chef and travel host Anthony Bourdain hanged himself in 2018.
They suffered from depression, which can be a life-threatening disease.
That’s why it’s important to know the warning signs and encourage people to get help. NAMI lists the warning signs as: increased alcohol and drug use, aggressive behavior, withdrawal from friends and family, dramatic mood swings, impulsive or reckless behavior.
If you see any of these suicidal behaviors in someone you love, get immediate help: Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon; giving away possessions; tying up loose ends for your family; saying goodbye to friends and family.
A dear family friend struggled for years to stay alive. His depression was debilitating. He spent an entire year wanting to kill himself. He tried counseling, various medications and finally, shock treatments. When we would ask him how he was doing, he’d say, “Terrible.” But we kept asking. We kept encouraging him to get help. We once called a helpline to get him through a rough night.
Through it all, we kept reminding ourselves, he has a disease we can’t see, a disease that might kill him. We knew regardless of how much we tried to help, it might still end tragically.
We learned to talk openly with him about his mental state and ask, “Do you have a plan for killing yourself?” “How do you plan to get through today?” “When was the last time you saw your psychiatrist?”
NAMI offers helpful tips on creating a wellness recovery action plan:
• Keep telephone numbers for your loved one’s therapist, psychiatrist and other health care providers and family and friends who would be helpful
• Include the local crisis line number, addresses of walk-in crisis centers or emergency rooms
• Include your loved one’s diagnosis and medications, previous suicide attempts, history of drug use, triggers and things that have helped in the past.
Our friend’s depression finally lifted. He’s no longer suicidal. The man who used to lock himself in his bedroom for days is out enjoying life again.
But not everyone you help will make it. Some suicides can be prevented; others can’t. My friend, Heidi, had a huge support system around her and knew it. The day she died she had rejected all efforts to help her.
Our best prevention efforts didn’t work, but at least we know we did all we could for her.
My husband’s aunt lost two children to suicide. We were celebrating her grandson’s bar mitzvah years ago when she casually told me, “When I lost two children to suicide, I could have stayed in bed and buried myself under the covers forever. But I knew I wasn’t to blame, and neither were they. My children suffered from depression. It was no one’s fault.”
Then she said, “I could either spend the rest of my life feeling sad and guilty. Instead, I decided to make joy my mission in life.”
Then she walked away to dance with her grandson.
If you lost someone to suicide, please know you are not to blame. It is not your fault.
Your loved one didn’t choose death over you. They chose death over pain.