In memory of those who tried to carry on but couldn’t
Trigger warning: The following piece deals with suicide. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 and /or reach out to someone in your life who can help. If you know someone who needs help, be that help. Links with ways to support someone dealing with suicidal thoughts can be found at the end of this piece.
I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of people in my life who have thought about, planned for, and/or committed suicide. And that’s just the ones I’m aware of.
Given the stigma that exists around suicide and mental health in general, I suspect far more of us have at least given some consideration to ending our lives than we realize. But instead of having a supportive environment that encourages seeking help, speaking out, and recognizing the commonality of such pain, we’ve been taught to tuck such things away as shameful secrets experienced by no one else.
I mean, I don’t want to put off too negative a vibe here. The situation’s getting better. But the improvement isn’t coming at a pace that meets the need. And that’s frustrating.
Suicide has been on my mind a lot the past several weeks. I had firsthand experience with an attempted suicide at the start of summer, and last month I watched a community mourn as a bright, young star burned out much too soon. With September being National Suicide Prevention Month, I figured this was as good a time as any to pound out my thoughts and see where it all goes.
To be clear right up front, I know the pain of which I speak.
I’ve had a couple of low points where suicidal ideation felt like a respite from the problems I was faced with. I never went as far as making an actual plan, but at one point, if I’d decided to, it would have been easy to create that plan and follow through. There’s not a day that goes by, though, that I don’t feel gratitude that I didn’t take that turn.
Something else I think about every day is folks I’ve known who were unable to hit the brakes. The ones who kept going until they weren’t here anymore. Good people. Some covered up the pain they felt, and you never would’ve guessed. Others wore their pain on their sleeve, the veneer worn away long ago.
There are lots of labels slapped on suicide.
By various accounts, it’s either cowardly, a sin, a permanent solution to a temporary problem, a final cry for attention, an easy way out, selfish, pointless, stupid, and the list goes on and on. Lots of times, these descriptions are uttered after the fact by people who know enough to issue a judgmental post-mortem, but not enough to step in and help out before it happened.
Which I guess is what I’m more or less trying to get at here. Helping before it happens, I mean.
We’ve been conditioned to engage in performative behavior. Quick and easy actions that let us check a good deed off the list without getting our hands dirty. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen the Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number posted on social media lately. But more often than not, that’s it.
And to be fair, it’s a start. But only a start.
The campaign the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is promoting this year is #BeThe1To, and I’m kind of in love with it. This is the place with the phone number that’s everywhere, and their message is essentially, “There’s more you can do.”
The message breaks down into five steps where you can #BeThe1To:
• Be There
• Keep Them Safe
•Help Them Stay Connected
• Follow Up
Like I said, it’s great. The campaign is really effective in demonstrating how there’s more to supporting someone struggling with suicide than passing on a phone number or being a passive bystander. There are roles to play throughout the process.
This is important to understand because suicidal ideation isn’t necessarily something that passes through, gets treated, and doesn’t come back. If you’re supporting someone who’s gone through this, there’s a chance your support will be needed again. If nothing else, that last step of following up is an ongoing one.
If there’s one thing we should all be acutely aware of more than half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s this: our actions impact one another. Choosing to #BeThe1To is a beautiful way make a positive impact.
I say “beautiful” because suicide and the conditions that lead to it are ugly. That lifeline you’re providing is a ray of golden sunshine in a wasteland of despair.
One more thing I want to touch on before wrapping up.
Those conditions I just mentioned … those aren’t just mental health issues. They are tangible, daily problems confronted by many. Depression, PTSD, substance abuse and other mental illnesses can be the result of or impacted by things like lack of housing, low-wage jobs, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and on and on.
Issues of social justice are intimately connected to both physical and mental health. Suicide included. Taking an active role in creating positive changes around these issues is an act of suicide prevention.
I could go on, but I’ve said all I need to, I think. If I went on, I’d get rambly and preachy, and no one wants that. Least of all you, dear reader. Before ending, I’ll include some links to various resources you can use and share with others. Thanks for taking the time to read, and thanks for taking the time to care.