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