At a wedding recently, I was at a table making small talk about work when another guest and I realized we were in similar industries. The other guest worked for a company where I knew someone. As our conversation narrowed to a specific group of people and then to the person I knew, the other guest nodded in acknowledgement of being acquainted with the person I knew. We shared a common human which connected us.
The guest leaned closer to me and whispered, “but didn’t she pass away?”
I replied, “yes, she did.”
“So young, gosh, so sad I mean I heard she was very active so I wondered if it was a tragic accident or something.”
“It was tragic. She died by suicide.”
And with that statement of truth, the entire table froze. It might as well have been the entire reception. I took the silence as an opportunity to start the conversation. Yes she was young and beautiful and successful and smiling and struggling in silence. Her social media posts looked amazing, full of love and fun and happiness, though she suffered with the pain of a chronic, invisible illness.
The entire table lowered their heads and did not engage in the conversation, not because they are assholes and don’t care, but because suicide is the death by silence. We don’t talk enough about how to prevent it because we don’t talk about it when it happens. Death by suicide is not shameful or something to shy away from having conversations about. It is a preventable cause of death, but the prevention is where the work happens.
We HAVE to normalize accessing mental health care.
We HAVE to stop calling people crazy.
We HAVE to talk about how hard life is and stop setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.
Suicide is more preventable than heart disease, diabetes and cancer. I see ads everyday praising people for getting help to lower their risk of each of these illnesses, highlighting how easy it is to get treatment as well as the side effects from whatever treatment is being advertised.
You know what the side effect of not getting mental health treatment?
Self-harm, deteriorating relationships, sleep disturbances, digestive issues, heart problems and death by suicide.
So we think twice about taking a medication that causes skin irritation or diarrhea, but we suffer in silence with the losing connections to those we love, lack of sleep and thoughts of death?
It does not make sense, because it does not make sense.
There is no one to blame for suicide. (I will type it again) There is NO ONE to blame for suicide.
No one person can make another person end their life.
No one interaction can make another person die at their own hands.
The person who dies by suicide is equally NOT to blame.
They are ill with distorted thoughts.
The evidence in front of them when making this decision is not true.
They are literally dying because of inaccurate information that feels very real.
Feelings are not facts.
In the last two weeks of my professional life, I have come in contact with five survivors of suicide. Five people who lost a loved one in their immediate family! Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children who have questions that will never be answered. A void in their lives that will always be present.
I provide treatment for the effects of suicide on a daily basis. Whether it’s with someone brave enough to ask for help for their own struggles with distorted thoughts or their family member trying to make sense out of a reality that does not. It is by far, the most challenging work I do. I am a solution-focused junkie – I see a problem, I offer a solution. Many times my solution is assisting my clients in creating the solution themselves. When someone is grieving a death by suicide, there is no solution. There is no resolve. There are no answers. Only pain and time.
So I hold the space for their pain and assure them, it will not always feel this way. Grief is not something to get over. There is no end. Grief remains for a lifetime. Grief is something to get through and to learn to manage so that life has purpose – yours and the life you lost.
Did you know if you have a connection to someone who has died by suicide, your risk for suicidal ideation, distorted thoughts, increases? And with each connection, your risk goes up.
Treatment, recovery and peace are possible.
The most heartbreaking question I’ve been asked was by a parent of someone who died by suicide.
“What could I have done differently?”
The only response I have to give is “nothing”.
The answer is nothing because no action or inaction was the cause.
Silence is to blame.
Prevention is the cure. The only cure.
Okay, so we got the cure but what does prevention look like?
Prevention is education.
Prevention is access to care.
Prevention is validating that mental health matters.
Education looks like: Yes, I go to therapy because I need help with dealing with my life (period). That is not a random statement, it is fact for me. I GO TO THERAPY BECAUSE I NEED HELP DEALING WITH MY LIFE. By the way, I am also a therapist. Do you know how many clients I have shocked with this statement? The same amount that relax their shoulders and sigh with relief after I say it because I normalize accessing help for them. They are not crazy. They do not need to be fixed. They need to be validated and witnessed for. And I am their girl!
Access to care looks like: Did you know most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a benefit which includes FREE therapy sessions? Did you know there are virtual services available at a low cost and even some that are covered by your health insurance provider? Did you know there are free groups and websites full of information on affordable mental health services? When in doubt, ASK about ACCESS! If you don’t know where to start, start with me. Shoot me an email. Message me on Facebook. I will help you find a place to begin. And if I am not your cup of tea, there are A LOT of licensed professionals who might be – keep reaching out until you find one that fits.
Validation looks like: Your experience matters. Your feelings are not facts, that is why we don’t function on feelings alone. However, your feelings do matter and you deserve to be heard. There is not a single thing you can tell a therapist that will shock them enough and send you away. And if that ever happens to you, tell ME and I will report them to their licensing board because they should not be in the helping profession!
Talk therapy may not be the easy-fix-it-button, because there may be more dynamics at play. Taking care of our mental health with self-care is a pie. There are many pieces at play.
Our physical health.
There is not one piece that is more important than another.
We can’t take a pill to cure it.
We can’t pray it away.
We can’t think it away.
We can’t exercise it away.
We can’t love it away.
We CAN eat one piece at a time. One day at a time. And we can find peace in healing.
We have to start talking. We have to remove the mask of judgement and shame.
Share your story, because there is someone who needs to hear it. You are NEVER alone.