September is Suicide Awareness & Prevention Month

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

[Writer's note: With the recent deaths of two celebrities by suicide, I felt this would be a good time to put this in. This column originally ran in September 2017.]

It’s a topic no one really wants to discuss. Instead, discussion is often replaced with pithy sayings on a poster and left at that.

Don’t make a permanent decision about a temporary problem.

Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse; it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.

What these statements say are true, but when you’re that deeply embroiled in the kind of depths of despair that result in suicidal ideation, the statements carry no weight. They’re just noise.

It’s a different kind of depression. Imagine completely losing your will to live and, furthermore, having your own brain tell you that the world would be a better place without you. That’s if you’re not being bullied on top of it. Social media that allows people to make anonymous statements about “friends,” along with just the internet culture itself have contributed to the ease and prolification of bullying. How many headlines have we seen where a schoolchild has taken their own life after just a small group of other kids told them they should just end it all? Or the YouTube vlogger who went missing and was later found dead after strangers in the comment section saw him as an easy target?

The fact is, the world would be worse for you leaving it, but even if you know this empirically, and everyone you know is telling you that, believing it can be hard and asking for help can be even harder, especially when your brain is convincing you that you aren’t worth the help. You know the stigma that surrounds people like you — that you’re selfish because “what about the people who love you that you’ll hurt?,” but that love isn’t something you can feel right then. It’s a kind of pain and isolation that no one can understand unless they’ve actually been there. People who haven’t been there can be sympathetic, can know medically or psychologically what’s going on and can help you if you let them, but to know how it actually feels to get that low? That requires being a member of one of the worst clubs in the world.

So often, the signs are seen in hindsight by those left behind. We’ve all seen the lists before: talk of being a burden or feeling trapped, having no reason to live or actually talking about killing themselves; increased use of drugs or alcohol, searching for materials or means to hurt themselves, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawal of activities and loved ones, giving away prized possessions. We’ve heard the various factors that could put someone at risk, including family history of suicide attempts, various mental health conditions or chronic pain conditions, stressful life events such as divorce, a death or job loss. Most who die by suicide exhibit some of these warning signs, but not all, and the importance of knowing and being able to recognize these signs can be the difference between death and hope.

Because there is hope. Sometimes we have to rely on other people to have that hope for us when we can’t see it, but it’s there. They’ll be the ones who make you angry when they suggest you go to the doctor or who won’t leave you alone when you try to isolate or start taking your guns or abusable medications away from you. They’ll be the ones who shoot worried looks at you from across the room and typing in the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8255]) after you shuffle back to your room. They’re the ones who call or text, knowing you may not reply, but wanting you to know you’re cared about. They’re even the ones who can’t see your symptoms and would drive you and themselves crazy trying to save you if they only knew.

So know the signs. Know the numbers to call if you or someone you know is exhibiting those signs. Be willing to hold onto someone’s hope until they can carry it again. Don’t let the fog win.

You’ll make the world a better place.
–Kate Wehlann

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