If we want to be serious about suicide prevention, we need to be serious about guns. Right now, we aren’t serious about guns, which begs the question of whether we are serious about suicide prevention.
So, the thing I want us to talk about this year is not just encouragement to call a hotline or to reach out to a friend for help, or even to tell our stories and erase the stigma around mental health issues. I want us to consider doing more than that. I want us, as a society, to figure out how to provide hope. As much value as there is in all of those other things if I can’t provide some hope that things will get better, that we are working and advocating for things to get better across all areas of our culture, then I can’t honestly say that there is a reason for someone to hope, and at the end of the day, the thing that truly prevented me from taking my own life when I was at my worst, was the hope that life wouldn’t always be that painful.
As it turned out, my life wasn’t always that painful, and even in times of pain, I can look back and remember that.
How do we provide that hope for others who have been beaten down and worn out with life right now? Where does their hope come from?
It was the stories. It was all of those people doing this in memory of someone they lost. Or, like me, in memory of the fact that we are still here instead of leaving others to tell our stories. In our day to day lives, it’s too easy to forget how many people are impacted by suicide each and every year across the country, and the world. The further in time I get away from that time in my own life, the easier it can be to put it behind me and forget about it. But, that is something I never want to do. As painful as it is, I want to remember what it was like to no longer want to be alive. When someone is in that place, I want to be able to say, “I’ve been where you are”, to recall all of the details, and be able to sit and understand. Because that is how we save people. Not by talking in hushed tones about depression, or mental illness, but by sharing the stories of people who survived and healed, and of those we’ve lost.
Let’s face it, if you spend much time considering those losses, and listening to those stories, it is impossible to walk away without realizing that we have lost a devastating number of people to this disease. Many more than some of the diseases we all gladly talk openly about every day. Yet somehow, maybe because we don’t understand it, or are afraid of it, we keep silent. After all, it might make someone uncomfortable. Even I have, at times, kept the details to myself in fear of making other people uncomfortable, or risk having them worry about me. The more I read and heard these stories though, the more I realized that I needed to share my story, if only so that anyone who reads it would know, and maybe even understand a little bit, what it’s like to be so far down into the darkness of depression, that you don’t want to live any longer. So, with that said, let me share my experience with you, now that it’s been some 25 years, and maybe now people won’t worry so much about me. (Warning, this is about to get dark, and we will talk a bit about suicide, though I will keep those exact details out)
Since it’s Pride Month, I’ve seen a few references on social media to the higher rates of suicide of LGBTQ youth. I’ve also seen a number of explanations for it, and things that you could do to help, but I wanted to share this quote from the Inside Mental Health podcast, where the host, Gabe Howard, was interviewing Dr. Amy Green, from the Trevor Project, because it really cuts to the chase with data, and facts.
When we look at that, the data is striking. One of our data findings found LGBTQ youth who have at least one accepting adult are 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt. When I say risk factors, rejection is one of the biggest ones on the other side for protective factors, it’s acceptance, its affirmation, its support. It’s so crucial during the adolescence and young adult period.
If you go listen to the whole podcast below, you’ll see that the things that increase the risks for suicide among LGBTQ youth are very much socially based. It’s not that LGBTQ youth have some sort of genetic quirk that makes them more likely to deal with mental health issues, it’s because they are so much more likely to be rejected, and unable to live their authentic lives. That one thing, is something that has an oversized impact on suicide rates for everyone, and happens to LGBTQ kids more often.
So, here’s something you can do that will have a huge affect on the likelihood a LGBTQ kid in your life will be lost to suicide, just accept them. Just allow them to be who they are, and live their life accordingly. That’s it.
So is it possible that simply making some sort of care easily accessible to more people, and looking out for each other, including in the workplace, helped lower the number of deaths by suicide? I’m willing to continue trying to do both of those things going forward to find out. It certainly seems like as good a place to start as any, and maybe lowering that number isn’t as complicated as we thought. It just takes the willingness to get these things done.
The people who helped me, and continue to help me, are the ones who will ask me questions and then just listen. They want to hear my story, even though they can’t fix it. They know that they can help by just giving me a space to tell my story, without worrying about the need to fight off their attempts at fixing something that may or may not be relevant at all to my situation. (i.e. I’m glad your cousin felt better after a walk in the forest, but that’s not what is happening here!)
So please, just listen. Make the space around you, even if it’s virtual, a safe space for your friends and loved ones to tell their stories. Find small ways to help, if you can, but also know that by just listening, just sitting with our stories, you are already helping so much.