“He killed himself.”
I practiced it over and over. It took me years to accept, but I knew I had to. I didn’t have a choice. My husband, Jeremy, had somehow survived five suicide attempts. When was enough, enough? When would God spare him from the agony that is living with severe depression and suicidal thoughts? I prayed for it. I prayed for God to take my husband because just like him, I saw no other way out. I saw no other possible end to the pain I knew he lived with. But when someone would ask me one day how my husband died, I would refuse to live in the darkness we once did. I would be honest. No more sugar-coating reality; too many people suffer from this. I would make something good from my husband’s struggle and ultimately death.
But God had another plan.
In October of 2016, I wrote this post, An Open Letter to the Family and Friends Who Just Lost a Loved One to Suicide, and I meant every word. I know what goes through the mind of someone about to take his or her own life because my husband survived to tell the tale. And after suffering in silence for so long, Jeremy knew there had to be a better way. He knew he had to fight. He had to learn how to live, not just stay alive. And today, Jeremy and I work together to do what I believed I would have to do alone after he was gone. Advocate for honesty, for suicide awareness. Jeremy learned to be open, honest, and to accept help.
We share because our society has a lot of work to do. It’s time to step up, society, and stop playing the victim. No more. Get your crap together. Quit ignoring mental illness. Address it head on. Tell it to go to hell where it belongs. By doing that, you’re telling those struggling that it’s okay to reach out for help, that it’s okay to talk about it.
Today, my heart is heavy and it’s time to write this letter to society. That post I linked above was in response to a young man committing suicide last October. It happened again today in the town I love and work…Kearney, Nebraska. But this applies to every town, every school, every community, everywhere. A high school aged girl left school and went home to end her life today. If you are her family or friends, please read the post I linked above and please keep reading. I’m writing here to support you.
I’m a wife, a mom, a teacher, and a mental health advocate. And today, I’m going to be writing from the point of view of all four of my roles because they overlap. And I’m mad. There’s that too. I’m angry that the suicide statistics just keep growing. I’m mad that this is happening more and more. I’m mostly mad that there is an answer to this and our damn society continues to ignore it. Enter the red-headed firecracker attitude (as my husband says). I don’t do quiet where mental health is concerned. And I don’t believe anyone else should either.
Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 – 24? More teens and young adults die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. (Statistics from http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/.) So why aren’t we talking about it?
The answer seems so simple. It seems so simple. And it’s because it is. Suicide awareness.
We cannot just say the words, suicide awareness. We have to live it. We have to get out in the communities, in the schools, and we have to talk about it. We have to scare the hell out of kids…enough so that they understand how dangerous those “fleeting thoughts” can become. We have to scare the hell out of them so they will reach out and tell someone the reality of their brains before it’s too late on this earth. Suicidal thoughts become suicidal actions, but those thoughts don’t come completely out of nowhere when someone ultimately decides to take his or her own life. Suicidal thoughts begin and grow with each and every obstacle a person comes up against.
Suicidal thoughts begin small, tiny even, and they grow with each and every obstacle a person comes up against. Why? Because when mental illness is not talked about, not addressed, not treated…it continues to take over. It doesn’t go away. And eventually, the pain is so great for a person that suicide seems the only option. Is it the fault of loved ones for not knowing? Absolutely not. Our society has taught us to conceal, to keep quiet, and to suffer in silence. Our society has taught us that there is shame in accepting help for mental illness, that there is shame in taking medication for depression, that there is shame in talking with a trained professional, and that there is shame in your brain constantly telling you that you aren’t good enough.
We have to teach the opposite. We have to teach the truth. It is not shame, it is STRENGTH. There is STRENGTH in accepting help for mental illness, there is STRENGTH in taking medication for depression if needed, there is STRENGTH in talking with a trained professional to change those suicidal thoughts into coping skills, and there is STRENGTH in telling your brain to go to hell when it’s tricking you into believing you aren’t good enough or that life won’t get better.
Life will get better. You have to FIGHT. We all have to FIGHT together for those who can’t easily fight for themselves. Mental illness makes it harder. So society, we have to step up our game.
But where do we start? We start in schools. As a special education teacher and now college lecturer myself, I can tell you these students are thirsty for the truth. They don’t want the truth to be sugar-coated; they want and deserve the reality. They live it, so why wouldn’t we talk about it?
Put up posters in the hallways with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number and website (1-800-273-8255 and https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/). Bring in guest speakers who know what the heck they’re talking about. From people who have lived the reality (like us) and other students who struggle with mental illness to trained mental health professionals. Take some of the pressure off of a guidance counselor who isn’t trained in mental health and bring in trained counselors. Provide time for students to talk if they want to. Educate teachers on warning signs to look for in students and give them an avenue to take in order to be pro-active with “at-risk” students. Most importantly, stop waiting for those suffering to come to you. Open up and talk about it. Give them a method for being open and I promise you, they’ll take it.
Educate. That’s the answer to all this. Stop playing the victim when these terrible things happen. I wish I could say suicide will completely go away, but I can’t because I know the reality of mental illness. But it can get better. And if we save just one life, isn’t it all worth it? Wake up and speak up. Suicide is a real problem and we can’t ignore it and hope it will go away.
It’s time to fight.
***Our book and true life story, “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith”, is available via eBook on Amazon or via paperback on www.jeremyandbailey.com. Follow our journey on Facebook. And read our blog at www.jeremyandbaileyblog.com. Please contact us via Facebook message or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to your group, school, church, etc.