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Suicide: Let’s Talk About It

The author of today’s post has asked to remain anonymous.

Family and suicide
Why did they do it? Was it mental illness? The pain still echoes through the family. I want to sleuth it out, uncover old journals, crawl around the family tree.

Now, in the past year, one of our children has had suicide ideation. Is it inherited? Or due to the fact we’ve moved around a lot? Or maybe I’ve caused it (tiger mom, not pushing enough spinach and beets, a blind eye as my kids binge YouTubers and TV)? Or? Is it something else entirely?

We talked with our child about their suicidal thoughts. We listened. We cried. We saw a counselor. The first one wasn’t a good fit. We saw a second counselor. Let’s be honest, the new one wasn’t fantastic either. Late in our sessions I learned she had files full of useful information and handouts she only shared with me when I asked and persisted. I am still ambivalent if she was helpful for my child.

But my child is still alive, so that’s something.

Friends and suicide
One of my best friends, Nicole, committed suicide when we were in tenth grade.

We’d been in Jazz band together, traveled to Disneyland, had slumber parties together. She was Catholic and her boyfriend wasn’t; her parents wanted her to break up. I lived down the street and heard the ambulance that afternoon. She shot herself in her bedroom.

At her funeral, her sister told mine, “Don’t let this happen. Be a better sister than I was to Nicole.” Her family moved away shortly afterwards.

Faith and suicide
Recently at church we had a suicide prevention counselor come and talk with youth and adults. The consensus was split: half of the parents liked what she had to say, the other half didn’t, and some wondered why we had to talk about suicide at all.

Suicide. I don’t know much about it, but I do know this:

  • Seek professional help.
  • Talking about suicide doesn’t cause it.
  • You can’t just ignore it and hope it will go away.
  • You can’t wish away depression or suicidal thoughts.
  • No amount of spiritual worthiness – prayer, fasting, scripture reading, temple attendance – can cure this in yourself or a loved one.

School and suicide
There have been two suicides at our high school this school year (since Aug 2018).

One of the boys was in one of my daughter’s math class. When they heard he’d died, several students broke down and openly wept (many were 16 & 17 year old boys). Students left class en masse to mourn. Counselors listened. Orange ribbons wrapped the nearby neighborhood where the boy lived. We asked questions, got few answers. At another school in our valley, seven students took their own lives last year alone.

Facts from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.

“There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.”

“Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their deaths. There are biological and psychological treatments that can help address the underlying health issues that put people at risk for suicide.”

Helpful Links and Info:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255
Available 24 hours everyday

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention & Ministering

Video: Reach out in Love

Love. Listen. Learn.

9 thoughts on “Suicide: Let’s Talk About It”

  1. A close family member took her life on Christmas Day, last week. She left 3 children and a legacy of love and generosity along with a lifetime of struggle, emotional, mental and physical illness, and many, many destructive choices. I happened upon this podcast over the weekend (from the podcast "Terrible, Thanks for Asking," which is excellent), and found it to be invaluable helpful:

    https://www.apmpodcasts.org/ttfa/2018/09/what-do-you-say-about-suicide-part-1/

    Reply
  2. Thank you for you courage to write and share this. Someone in my family suicided when I was a senior in college. That was in an era before therapists were readily accessible and before decent drugs could help. I feel its effects still of course. A decade later – when I was married with a baby daughter – I heard that one of my dear old boyfriends suicided. So much heartache all around. I am grateful though that because of these experiences I try hard to take good care of myself mentally and emotionally (and good medications used essentially prophylactically help), work on healthy boundaries, and learn the nuances of mourning with those who mourn … before anything drastic and unchangeable occurs.

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  3. Thank you for writing about suicide. Once a year, I teach a class on death & dying that includes a unit on suicide. Most of my students have a personal connection to someone who has died by suicide. The signs can include direct discussion of killing oneself as well as being withdrawn, having a sudden change in moods, giving away possessions, telling people goodbye, and even a display of euphoria (from the relief of making the decision as the "solution" to their overbearing emotional suffering).

    I had family friends whose thirtysomething son had experienced GI track problems for years. He asked his parents and all siblings to come from their various states to visit him for a three-day weekend where he lived in Arizona. The family was thrilled to see him being so upbeat, energetic, and expressive. But they didn't realize that he asked them to come as a final goodbye before his decision to "escape" his chronic illness by suicide.

    As a gerontologist, I am aware that OLDER WHITE MEN are actually the most at-risk demographic in the US. It's often that they are single and have waning health, and after decades of being "in charge," they don't want to show vulnerability and be dependent on others. But teens are also at high risk (as well as those with mental illness and those with substance abuse problems).

    But all the above being said, I am not a licensed mental health professional, so I refer people expressing suicide ideation to hotlines and licensed mental health professionals–even MDs or Emergency Rooms if that's more readily available at the time. I do think that many people discount young adults, teens, and even tweens as being overly dramatic and don't take their emotional pain about break ups, bullying, unmet goals, public humiliation, health problems, or family dysfunction seriously. And young people are less resilient because they have less experience and fewer coping mechanisms developed to deal with hardships. When I was at BYU as an undergrad in the early 1980s, an acquaintance's boyfriend leapt from Deseret Towers to his death because he didn't get the grades he needed to qualify for medical school. (The details I'm recalling may be a bit sketchy; it's been a long time.) People thought he was a lot more resilient about finding an alternate career path.

    I don't have the answers, but I do agree that taking this topic out of the shadows of shame is a step in the right direction. Thanks again.

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  4. I am a mental health professional who has been effected personally and professionally by suicide. People who take action on suicidal thoughts seem to have two things missing: hope & sense of power. I am convinced that given the right combination of factors, any of us could be susceptible to suicidal thoughts and subsequently suicidal actions. I appreciate the title "Suicide: Let's Talk About It." We HAVE to talk. No lecturing, no judging, just talking. When we talk about something, we open ourselves up to other perspectives; other perspectives might lead a suicidal person to view themselves, their lives, their situations in a different way and that may give them some hope. Some hope might lead to taking action of another nature and that action may remind them of their personal power. Some hope might buy time for the situation to change, pressures to be relieved, and desperation to pass. We have got to STOP AVOIDING topics that we're scared of, uncomfortable with or don't understand. It's okay to be scared AND still talk. It's okay to be uncomfortable AND still talk. It's okay to not understand AND still talk.

    Reply
  5. Yes! Thank you for sharing. Stunning stories that make my heart sink, but this I know…as a high school teacher suicide ideation and completion is staggering and on the rise. We need to responsibly talk about it and your "but I know this" list is spot on. I hope lots and lots of people read this. xox

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  6. Thank you for this subject.
    In Luke, the Saviour prophecies that in the last days, "Men’s hearts failing them for fear…"

    I am the mother of a young woman who had so much promise yet found herself in a place where her heart failed her. She only had one fear, yet she clung to her faith, she accomplished every task given her by therapists, Drs., and good friends and family, excelled in academia, social and community activism, and volunteered literally every week for enjoyment- but her heart failed her. She was extremely mentally gifted, and she was keenly aware of the inequity in the world, not just around her, but also worldwide, and these unjust inequities plucked at her constantly. This constant injustice within humanity was a companion to her always and she fought for equality and dignity diligently. She was perspicaciously aware that some injustices were out of her realm of fixing, and was able to separate that from the realities she could control, and she did this successfully for years. She made a lot of difference in the lives of so many, and within her community, her faith, her circle of friends, and of course our family.

    Early in her college years she sought out professional help while on vacation (away from her personal therapist) and it ended in a cataclysmic misdiagnosis which landed her incorrectly in a facility that took away her self agency. This particular incident terrorized her; and she opted out of therapy for quite a few years, eventually she returned knowing in the long run, professional help was helping. That said, she put it out there that she would literally rather die than ever be hospitalized again, no matter how ill she became -mentally *or* physically.

    4.5 years ago she had an extremely bad day which led to good people trying to help her, however the threat of hospitalization seemed a reality -to her-, so she went to a store and purchased a gun. (The gun store ignored laws and sold it and ammunition to her without a waiting period or background check.) She took her life. (She was 6 months from receiving her PhD from Duke University.)

    As we talk about suicide, we need to acknowledge that professional help is desperately needed. Funding for mental health professionals must always be maintained, open honest discussions must become as normal as discussing having a broken limb or a burst appendix. Shame for having mental illness needs to stop. Support, flowers, cards, personal visits — all will help those who feel mentally strained.
    Perhaps more than anything I would hope that facilities that are in place to help mentally stressed, or mentally ill, will constantly train the professional in charge to listen and believe patients, to treat them with kindness, dignity, and understanding, and give patients tools to help them manage their illness without fear. No one should have an experience that causes more damage and fear than good health and healing. Not all professionals *truly* listen before jumping on a diagnosis or treatment, which can lead to trust issues with persons who already are struggling, and in our personal situation, end in absolute heart crushing hope destroying resolutions.

    I would also like to say that gun laws already in place *need to be enforced*. Purchasing a gun should be at least as difficult to acquire as a driver's licence. If laws in her state were actually followed, my daughter would still be alive.

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  7. Jennie, my heart is grieving for you. This is a problem that can't be ignored in our church and our country. All of the medicine in our house is under lock and key to protect my son from overdosing. He's made attempts by other means as well. He's a teenager, so purchasing a gun is not possible right now. I worry for him in the future (and every waking minute in the present) When he has the means, will he follow through? I'm terrified. I'm trying my best to stabilize and support him : he sees a therapist and a psychiatrist. Here's the thing: I'm not alone. I know 3 other moms who have children fighting this horrible battle. It's real, and it's likely happening to someone you know.

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