PSA: The Hard Topics

This is a tough topic to talk about and write about but I really think it’s important so I am going to brave the topic…Suicide.

Over the last 5 months or so, two suicides have happened in our area.  They have happened in neighboring towns.  I didn’t know the families.  I didn’t know the people…but I do know Kalissa and these deaths have affected her.

She’s at the age she figured out that life isn’t permanent.  She’s known but it’s a different knowledge.  The young adults that have taken their life are brothers and sisters to people she knows.  She can’t imagine it could be one of her siblings.  She has kids.  She can look at Carver and Gannon and see how very precious children are to their parents.  She can’t imagine her child growing up and taking their own life.

She was talking to me and said, “Mom, seriously, what can we do?”  She went on to talk to me and saying, what if it’s Carver one day?  How can we stop it from happening?  How do we make sure none of my siblings take their life?  What can we do?

Oh my…this is so hard as a mom to know what to say to her.  I don’t have the answers but I do want to have an open conversation about it.  I think open conversations are always the best starting place with anything.

Getting out of denial is the very first place to start.  So many people think…no, my friend would never do that.  Parents think my child would never do that.  The truth is friends will, children do.  Parents do.  Cousins do.  Teachers do. Pastors do.  Grandparents do.  There is not a single group of people that are immune to suicide.

I will always remember being in high school and a guy a couple of years younger than me took his life.  I remember the shock.  I remember thinking, but I just talked to him two days ago.  I remember thinking I had no idea and how could that have happened.  I remember wishing there was something I could have done.  I remember thinking if only he would have said something to me, I would have done anything to stop him…anything.  Suicide leaves all of us left behind feeling so inadequate…so completely frustrated.

I know as I write each of you knows someone or possibly knows several someones who have taken the choice to live or die into their own hands. Maybe it’s even you yourself.  Some were successful in their mission to leave this world…some weren’t.  I’m sure each of you had the same response, “If I had only known…”.

I would love to say that there is no way I could ever think of committing suicide…but I know that’s a lie.  You all know me.  I’m pretty upbeat.  I’ve been through some icky crap.  During all of that, it didn’t cross my mind.  But, if my cancer goes bad and I end up confined to a bed and know I’m a short time away from death, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t hoard pills and try to do myself away.  I can’t guarantee it.  I don’t think anyone can.

As soon as we admit that everyone makes a choice every day to live or not can we realize that some might choose to not live.  We have to realize the potential is there before can ever work to help others and open the door to conversations.  How many times have we heard the words, “before we can fix a problem, we have to recognize there is a problem.”  We have to recognize that each of us has the potential to choose to not live before we can begin to help.

32 year old man commits suicide in presence of his mother in Lagos - Market Digest Nigeria

I believe another good thing for us all to do is review and look at the warning signs of suicide.

Warning signs for suicide

As a parent of five kids, I can honestly tell you upfront that I had reason to worry a time or two.  I was scared.  I was worried to do or say anything.  I was worried to say the wrong thing and offend.  In the end, I right out front confronted my kid and I’m so thankful I did.  I said, “I’m worried about you and I could never live with myself if you did something to harm yourself and I said nothing.”  Thankfully we were able to pass through this unharmed…but I still know…I still watch…I never forget.  I don’t live in denial.

I think we all need to make a huge effort to be more open and less judgemental.  At one time in history, homosexual teens were taking their lives at an alarming rate.  That is so sad.  If people felt more accepted for whoever they are, could rates of suicide drop?

It takes a whole community to help prevent teen suicide

I think we all need to be more open and talk about mental health.  I have talked to my nurse daughters.  They admit people to the hospital all of the time.  They have to do the medication intake forms with patience.  I asked one of them, “If you admitted 10 people to the hospital, how many of them would be on some type of medication related to mental health?”  The answer is 60%.  But the girls also said they feel that number should be higher.

Think about…if their numbers are accurate over half of the people we meet are on medication to help them with their mental health.

We need to take the stigma off of seeking mental help as a form of weakness.  Someone seeking help for their mental health is in reality one of the strongest things anyone can do.

We need to take the stigma of mental health as something we can control completely on our own away.  People can’t just think their way out of unhealthy thoughts.  They can’t just get over it.  Mental health is so much more than that.

The reality is so many mental health issues are inherited…or disease no different from me having cancer.  It is not the person’s fault.  The person is not weak.  It is not different than any other medical issue that needs to be dealt with.  I applaud the day when we can treat a mental illness with the same acceptance as we treat an issue with a bunion.

My daughter Kelli is very open about talking about medications she takes dealing with depression and anxiety.  She said that once she was open and started talking about it to others, so many people have come to her and asked questions.  They’ve asked questions like “how do I talk to my doctor about this or what medications does she take or what made her feel like she needed help”.

I had Kelli read this post before I published it.  On tough topics like this, I often like a second set of eyes checking things over to make sure my words come across to a reader the way I intend them to.  Kelli wrote and said this:  “Different things work for different people. For a long time, I refused to do therapy, but once I realized that just medicine wasn’t working, that was the next step. For some people, therapy is enough and/or helps them with appropriate behavior modifications. For others maybe a small dose of medication works. Either way, the important thing, and first step is asking for help. Healthcare providers can set you up with a variety of resources that fit your insurance, your income, your lifestyle, your history, etc. No one is beyond help!”

Opening up and normalizing discussions about mental health is key.  We need to do it.  Sure it’s uncomfortable.  Sure it can seem like oversharing.  Sure it can open yourself to vulnerability, but think of all the people we can help, ourselves included.

So what can we do if we see the signs…

Suicide: Suicidal Signs, Behavior, Risk Factors, How to Talk & More

If you are the person that is thinking of hurting yourself and you are afraid to reach out to someone you know, please go to any emergency room.  Walk in the door.  Say, “I’m thinking of harming myself and I don’t know what to do.”  You will be given help.  Please if you ever get to this point, please be brave.  Please take yourself to an emergency room please ask for help.

I tell my kids all the time…whatever choice you make, you have to able to live with yourself in the morning.  I’ve applied this to almost everything.  If I don’t take out the garbage tonight, will I remember in the morning?  If I drive home with an alcohol buzz, could I live with myself if I harmed someone while I was driving?  If I thought someone was hurting and I didn’t say something- if I didn’t risk the relationship by stepping up and ask the question, are you thinking about hurting yourself, could I live with myself if something happened??

I also want to tell you, if you were close to someone who did commit suicide, we talk about warning signs…but some people give none.  Some people are masters at hiding things that are wrong.  You are not to blame.  It is not your fault.  My heart goes out to you.  More than anyone, you know how important it is to campaign for less of a stigma to be around mental health care.  Please join in, be brave, talk about your experience.  Sharing your experience can really open the door to others to talk…and until we can talk and normalize mental health conversations, I don’t think we have a chance of changing the suicide rates.

I’m sorry for the sad post today…but it’s what was on the minds of both Kalissa and me as we struggle to understand and open the conversations about suicide.  We want to help.  We want to be part of the change.  We want to campaign for moving from denial that it could happen to our loved ones.  We want to campaign for the acceptance of talking about mental health.  We want to do anything we can to save a life…to save families the pain of losing a loved one.

39 thoughts on “PSA: The Hard Topics”

  1. Thank you Jo, for writing this. Mental health is equally, if not more, important as physical health. Speaking as someone who has depression and anxiety, I wouldn’t be here today…. if it wasn’t for my husband and daughter recognising the warning signs; if I hadn’t had help from a psychiatrist; if I wasn’t on medication. Depression is something that never goes away, every day I have to work hard at dealing with unhelpful thoughts, which, if left to take over, would lead me back down the spiral. I’m lucky that I have support at home, but a lot of people don’t have that. If we have a physical problem, we immediately ask for help, but the very nature of a mental health problem makes us believe we don’t deserve help and so we keep quiet. I hope that the more it is talked about, the more people can recognise the warning signs with their family, friends, colleagues……xx

  2. Depression MUST BE TALKED ABOUT! I am a happy married (almost 40 years) to a wonderful man that suffers from clinical depression. It is long term and not “curable”, but treatable. A lot stems from constant pain. I often have to deal with family that say “oh grow up” or “you do not look like you are in pain”
    He hides his pain well (except from me and doc) so as not to inflict others with his daily life. A have a daughter that suffers from small bouts of depression. We got her help at the first signs (in her teens. She needed counselling (not meds) and is OK and monitoring well. She works in the trades and often see other people that need help. She is not afraid about talking about depression and try’s to get other to seek help. It is must be treated, It is no different then any other sickness. And yes you may have to change your meds regularly! Keep up the good work an I love your quilts.

    1. Jo, thank- you for this post. A wake- up call for us all. Thank-you for being the person who goes ahead and tackles the hard things.

  3. ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem’. One of my sons inherited the depression gene from his father. When he was a young adult, it was a very worrying time as he tried to commit suicide several times. I always think that God intervened because now he 45 years old and secure with his life. I can’t imagine the mental torment that people with depression have, but I know it’s real. I have never had depression myself but I know it’s a very difficult illness to have, based on my son and some friends journey through it. Your blog today is informative and helpful. I hope it helps someone.

  4. Thank you for speaking up on mental health. It is a subject most people don’t want to discuss. Losing a life is so unforgiving, both to the one lost and the ones left behind. You can’t go back. Speak up.

  5. Such a tough subject, I cried while reading this as my brother died by suicide 8 years ago and it still hurts. I tell people all the time…call me, reach out to me if you are having those types of thoughts, any time of the day or night. I do a bicycle ride for suicide awareness every year. We need to get rid of the stigma over mental health issues. Thanks for the post.

  6. Opened a monthly newsletter right before yours. Haven’t read because it looked like a heavy topic. This is this month’s quote – “They say you can bear anything if you can tell a story about it.” Sue Monk Kidd. Son of a friend (21) has had two friends commit suicide during the pandemic. Mental health & isolation were a large factor. We definitely need to end the stigma. Thanks for sharing.

  7. After attempts to commit suicide in front of me and my sisters, June 2, 1979 my dad finally died alone in the back yard of our house. I was 15 years old and in the 43 years since it has never been discussed. I have always been open and honest with my kids when discussing depression and alcoholism. They cannot be swept under the carpet and thought of as shameful. I am saving all of the pictures in your post for future reference. Thank you Jo for sharing your thoughts today.

  8. Jo, thank you. I do not see this as a sad post. It’s education. It’s a PSA. It’s a wakeup call. I’m so sorry Kalissa is so closely affected by suicides.

    In 1994 my oldest brother died by suicide. He had a good marriage. He had a successful business. His 2 healthy boys were 12 and 14. He had been in treatment for 20 years. His counselor spoke at his funeral. He had seen my brother the day before. He had no inkling suicide was about to happen. If a professional can’t see it coming, no one can.

    I have a grand nephew who was cutting. A female friend noticed his arms at school and went to the school Nurse. Thank God! He was 12 at the time :-( He has since become my niece and the angst of who he/she was resulted in cutting for 18 months until he/she got help. (He wore long sleeves year round because “I am always cold”. She is now a happy 15y. who has not taken any hormones or begun any kind of physical change. Her mental status however is content. I’m so very grateful to God she is alive.

    Social pressure to conform is huge and social media has amplified the pressure 1000 fold. Photoshop the perfect body, the perfect makeup, the perfect clothing. Nothing is real yet the expectation is to be that.

    Mental health is no different than that bunion you mention or diabetes. Mom really struggled w/brother’s death. I finally asked her if she understood that diabetics are missing the chemical insulin so they need help? Yes. So Mom, his brain is missing the chemicals needed for mental balance and what he was given just didn’t fill the need so like a diabetic without adequate insulin. (We are immigrants and Mom had an 8th grade education there. English was never a strong suit but she was smart as a whip!).

    I like to think that in my lifetime mental health will be as normalized as diabetes or that bunion. The stigma has got to stop. The people who hide are the most at risk. We need our world to be safe for each and every one of us. We all need to talk and encourage others to talk about our mental health and our ups/downs. They are part of life.

    I’m a recently retired RN. I don’t have enough fingers/toes to count the attempted suicide patients on my OR table in my 4 decade career :-( We saved some, but not most.

    Education is everything. Thank you Jo. And thank you Kelly for going public with your own mental health struggles. You are my hero.

    Now I’m going to get a kleenex and go read Kalissa’s blog.

  9. Yes, that’s a heavy topic and you had some wonderful things to say. Which means what I’m going to say next either come across as loving (which is how it is meant) or some people will take offense. We do need to be open about discussing mental health as easily as most people talk about physical health. But in all honesty, the health that is most important and the least talked about is spiritual health. Without a relationship with the One that created us and knows our every need, our mental health can never really flourish. Which isn’t to say that that relationship will exempt us from trials of all sorts, but rather equip us to persevere. I want my loved ones to have good health while on this earth, but I do deeply recognize that good health here is temporary. What really keeps me up at night is concern for where they will be spending eternity. Jesus is called the great physician. I firmly believe if we seek Him first He can help us to get our lives sorted, physically, socially, emotionally, and of course mentally. And yes, of course I know that even with God in a life, a person may still need medication, etc. I am just so saddened to see so many who either don’t know or don’t accept that we all have an eternity to face someday. We need courage to spread awareness of that reality as well. Blessings!

    1. Judith Fairchild

      I agree with you 100%. But getting help from others can a d should be part of the process. Been there!

    2. Carla, even God does not prevent suicide. My brother never skipped church. His counselor of 20 years was also the assistant pastor at his church.

      I am not at all slighting faith in God so please do not think I am. HE sometimes still calls the mentally ill home.

  10. I’ve taken antidepressents for years. And so has my son and GDD. My GDD took herself to the emergency room at her college last month and was put in the hospital for two weeks because she was afraid to harm herself. She had to drop out of school but seems to be doing well and is getting a new doctor. Its a treatable illness but only if you are aware and willing to be treated. Hugs to the families who have lost loved ones. This past year has definitely not been a good one.

    1. Thank goodness she knew enough to do that and clearly wasn’t concerned about stigma! My thought are with you and your family and I hope she’s able to find a treatment that helps her. Hugs, Laurie

    2. you are not alone.
      been there, done that with my kid.
      its been 4 years and i am happy for every day i get to love her and enjoy the wonderful, loving person she is.

      finding a good “life coach” is so difficult and utterly frustrating !!!
      so is finding the correct med (which can change when it stops working or side effects are bad)
      and then continuing to take the med (because you feel better and don’t think you need it !)
      AND, it all sounds so easy to get long term help (not just a hotline Band-Aid) until you try, only to find it’s nearly impossible!!

      yup, been there,
      can relate to your pain.
      welcome to the mom of a special kid club.

  11. Penny Guglielmoni

    Depression, suicide and other mental health issues are not sad. They are opportunities to give love in a very important way. We as a country don’t help people with mental health issues so we as individuals must. No the cries of a person talking of ending it aren’t cries for attention they are begging for help to see the way to a better life. They still have some hope and we need to to take that tiny seed and help it grow into confidence and joy. We also need to stop people who delight in saying and doing hurtful things. Confront the bully in a kind way but confront it. Kindness really is the answer in some cases.

  12. Thank you Jo for posting about this subject. Mental health is as important as physical health and we should be willing to discuss it more openly.

  13. Thank you for taking on this difficult subject. You have helped us all with knowledge and normalizing speaking out on something people often hide.

  14. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You may think it solves problems for yourself but I guarantee it leaves many more problems and guilt feelings for your loved ones. Asking for help is the first step towards a better life. Keep asking until you find the right help for you. The world is always better with you in it.

  15. Bravo. Now to penetrate the folks who perpetuate the ugliness of employment when someone’s prescription is a reason for dismissal,non-advancement or not being hired in the first place. How many ugly incidents might have been avoided if that”crazy” person could have felt safe in seeming help ??? Been seeking help,been on a medication the insurance person at work would see and made bosses aware of it and found an excuse to let them go ????????????

    1. hearing you. !!
      getting hired in the first place (when meds are disclosed) is difficult.
      then comes the stigma when the uneducated pass judgement
      its a viscous cycle to endure.
      truly sorry.
      consider yourself hugged.

  16. My nephew committed suicide when he was 27. I will never forget that day! The shock and grief. Initially I felt the act of suicide as cowardly but I decided it actually takes a very strong person, not a coward. It hurts to know that someone, anyone, is so depressed that they feel suicide is the only out.
    My daughter called me on Wednesday, she said Tuesday night her son came home shaken (literally) and asked if he could talk to her. He was crying so hard that it was hard from him to get the words out. He said he had just talked his best friend off a ledge. His friend called him, a cry for help, he was on a building ledge ready to jump. My grandson was able to talk him down. He stayed with the friend until the friends mom got there. I sure hope the parents of this young man get him the help he needs. I know some would say, crisis over, and sweep it under the rug. I’m not sure the crisis is ever “over”.

  17. Two different sets of parents at church had sons who committed suicide in the 80s and 90s. At a retreat in the 2010s, they mentioned how abandoned by their church family they felt. People were afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they said and did nothing. Try: “I am so sorry. I care. I’m here for you.”

  18. Thank you for writing this. I think the first step to removing stigma is calling it BRAIN health, not mental health, just like heart disease is heart health. It’s an organ and sometimes the neurotransmitters are being sent and received properly by the neurons and sometimes they’re not. Brain processes lead to anxiety and depression. I think calling it mental health implies it’s in the person’s control. I’m not attacking your use of the word mental health, I think the medical establishment needs to change their language, as it has so many others with advancements in medicine. Excellent blog post. Thank you again for writing it.

  19. Patricia A Boelens

    Thank you for writing this piece.
    Prayers for your whole family and theirs.
    Also, prayers for the families of those who face this situation.

  20. Judith Fairchild

    I agree with you 100%. But getting help from others can a d should be part of the process. Been there!

  21. Judith Fairchild

    thanks Jo, as one who has suffered from depression. And still
    Have episodes. Get help whether it’s pastor, parent ,teacher or counselor . Please get help!

  22. Thanks for writing this post! It reminds to check in with my son as he has a tendency to depression. He just moved into his own apt and works from home so not much opportunity for socialization with COVID restrictions. I have to admit I do at times shy away about talking directly about his mental health but I am trying to do better.

  23. Rosie Westerhold

    You are spot on with this post. I have never felt the urge/need to harm myself, but I started suffering from depression and anxiety about 10-15 years ago. Mostly, I think, from an unhealthy work situation. It took me awhile to recognize what was happening to me, and some time before I asked my doctor for help. He started me on meds immediately, and set me up with counseling. I was grateful, terrified, and embarrassed all at the same time. I am just so happy that I was able to identify the symptoms occurring within me. I think my husband recognized the symptoms, but was afraid to confront me or mention things for fear I would fly off the handle or something. I can remember that it was almost 6 weeks to the DATE that I had started anti-depressants, and I started to feel like myself, to feel like I wasn’t going to cry if someone looked at me the wrong way, to start to enjoy things I had enjoyed for so many years, but could find no joy in doing those things for a long time. I felt “normal” again. I have never shied away from talking about my experience, either. It is SO important that we take care of our mental health as well as our physical health.

    In retrospect, I believe my father also suffered from depression, and he DID threaten to kill himself several times after I was married. I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t take his threats seriously. It WAS a stigma to that generation to ask for help, and there were far fewer medications available to successfully treat depression 40 years ago. Thankfully, he never followed through with his threats, but I am ashamed of myself for not hearing his cry for help when my mother called me hysterically asking what to do. I have always wondered if this is hereditary as my brother and I are now BOTH being treated for depression. I could see it in my brother, and am grateful that his wife FINALLY got him to admit it and get treatment. I had been doing so well mentally, that I thought I could stop taking my medication. That was JUST before the pandemic hit. And I am forever grateful that I did NOT have that conversation with my Dr about stopping my medication. I’m not sure how I would have survived the past year if I weren’t medicated. I could feel myself spiraling downward in May of last year because of all of the isolation. Visits from my nearly adult granddaughter brought me “back.” And I tell her constantly how she “saved” me.

    The past year has been rough. My 96-year-old mother passed in September. My own husband passed in January after a very brief battle with cancer. Had I not been on the right medication, I’m not sure how I would have gotten those 2 life traumas with my mental health intact. I am forever grateful to my Drs for recognizing my cry for help, and grateful that it was relatively easy to find the right drug combo for me. It is not always so easy. And I am grateful that I have never felt like I needed to end my life because of my depression. As several people above stated suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It can ALL seem so hopeless to some people that they choose to take that permanent solution. I have several high school and college classmates who chose that route. I never quite understood how they could choose that path. Without the proper treatment for my own illness, I may very well could have been someone who chose that path as well. I never got to that point, however, and chose life, thankfully.

    Again, Jo, your post was quite timely. We all need to recognize the signs of struggle with mental health issues. Thank you for addressing this openly, and for posting warning signs. I have many people in my life who have been quite concerned about me recently because of my husband’s passing. I appreciate them reaching out to me so, so much. It has been very difficult for so many reasons, as you well know. But, I never felt that I couldn’t go on with life. I just didn’t want to because of my loss. I have been struggling mentally because of everything, but I have a good support system with friends and family. Things WILL get better even if things seemed hopeless to me for quite some time. I will be a survivor, though. Blessings to all the survivors out there. And I, like you, Jo, will always be available to anyone who wants or needs to talk through their “issues.” Even to people I don’t even know. So, if there is anyone out there who is struggling, please contact me via e-mail, and we can figure out a solution together.

    1. Thank you so much for being open and sharing your story. It takes courage and I can see you, you have courage! With courage, you can continue to move forward!!

  24. Well said. I have several friends whose husbands or other family members committed suicide. In 2 cases the person had a terminal disease. Even in those cases it was devastating to their survivors – not just in the short term but for years. In fact the surviving spouses never got over the trauma.

  25. I’ve known 2 people that committed suicide. One was a co-worker. I never saw it coming. The first was a fairly new friend in college, who did it after arguing with his girlfriend about me. I’d asked him if he wanted to go to a golf tournament with me because I had free tickets. I told my daughter in high school and college that if she ever worried a friend would do this then she should call me. I would do what I could to help them. Thank you for talking about this topic.

  26. Margaret in North Texas

    Jo, I am so amazed how you can convey your thoughts and perspective on so many different issues to your blog readers. Thanks for bringing up this subject to be talked about. I do like the idea of using the term “brain health” as one reader suggested. Let’s all start there!!

  27. Thank you, Jo, for tackling this head-on and for the list of way we might help someone who is hurting.

    I take anti-depression medications and although the doctor speaks occasionally of weaning me off, as long as I have health insurance, I will never stop taking it (25+yrs). I was never suicidal but everything was so overwhelming. I remember thinking even grocery shopping is so very exhausting…decide what to buy, put it in the cart, take it out of the cart to put it on the conveyor belt, pick it up and put it in the bag, put the bag in the cart, take the bag out of the cart, put the bag into the car, take it out of the car, take it into the house, take them out of the bags, put them into the cupboards and then have to do it all. over. again. next week. That’s when I know my Seasonal Affective Disorder had evolved into full blown depression.

    My Grandma told me once she contemplated suicide. She had polio and spent months in an iron-lung. She was so happy to be able to breathe on her own again but the thought of learning to walk and wear leg-braces forever was too much. She started hoarding her sleeping pills. One night after bringing in the med tray, her nurse said “do you think you have enough yet?” She said she was so shocked that the nurse knew that she handed all of them over to her and never took another sleeping pill. Later, FDR visited the polio ward and she was so inspired by his concern for others that she decided she was going to do the same. She did learn to walk without braces, did have kids (obviously) though she was told she would be sterile. She was head RN nurse at the hospital I was born in, ran a family Arabian horse ranch and had a health food stores. All at the same time. She was strength personified.

    I tell this all to point out that it was a single question that stopped her and someone to speak to her heart to heart that inspired her. I hope my ears and eyes will always be open to anyone around me that is thinking of self-harm.

  28. One thing I learned long ago is to use the phrase “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide.” I can’t remember what group recommended the change, but I believe it was to help those who has a loved one who died that way.

  29. Please don’t be regretful about this post Jo. for those who read this, let them forward it to others so the word can get out. I had a nephew who committed suicide at the age of 19. As people looked back there might have been signs, but nothing that would have been warning signs so that was difficult to deal with. I think about my other nephew who found him. At age 17 he faced a life of seeing that and living with it. The suicide victim doesn’t seem to see who they are leaving behind and the devestating results of their actions. So many times they are thinking how everything and everyone would be better off without them. How do we make people know that they are valued enough to know they are loved and wanted?

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