Death is a harrowing ordeal. Death can bring friends and families closer together or drive them apart. Death can mobilize people into action or leave them in a perpetual haze; unable to act. I have witnessed the maelstrom of emotion evoked by the death of a loved one, but nothing has brought more heartbreak to me than suicide.
I once knew a man who had everything you could want; an elite education, a great family, an adoring niece and nephew, countless friends, enough money to live a comfortable life, and a thirst for adventure. He had been well spoken, but not verbose. Approachable, but reserved being more his style. He knew his way around a room and it had been clear when he spoke, his intellect shined through.
A year and a half ago this man took his own life. A year and a half ago a friend, a brother, an uncle, a son, a cousin, and so many other things to so many people decided enough was enough and ended his life.
Still today, I struggle with the idea of him being gone. He will never again light up someone’s face when he enters a room. This feeling still lingers in my brain. He never seemed unhappy to me. Constantly traveling. Constantly learning. A man of many talents with an abundance of wealth (and not just the monetary kind). He was one of the most educated people I had ever met and his laughter had been contagious. His thoughtfulness, patience, and compassion was ever-present but above all else, he seemed so together. Always in the moment when you were with him and you could see in his eyes he genuinely felt love for you as a person.
But underneath it all, deep down, hidden from everyone he knew, a dark and tormented mind became overwhelming. The constant pressure to do and be more was an unbearable burden he could not withstand. So, on a Wednesday evening, after an ordinary day in the life of my friend, he went to sleep with the intention of never waking up again.
You kick yourself around thinking, “what could I have done?” or “why didn’t he talk about it” but unfortunately for us, the ones who are left to pick up the pieces, we will never know. We will never fully understand why.
I miss him often. We all do. It comes at some of the most random times. Passing a picture on my refrigerator with his face staring back at me, my mind suddenly becomes thrust into the moment I found out. Thankfully, over time, those thoughts quickly move to the times we shared together and not just the tragic end we all experienced. I see his features in pictures of his niece and nephew and think of what they will miss out on, not being able to fully comprehend at the time he wasn’t coming back. No more soccer matches, no more birthday parties, no more impromptu visits because he missed them. They will never really get it and maybe that’s a blessing. I don’t know enough about the cognitive development of children to accurately describe what death does to them emotionally or developmentally, but for me, it hurt. Still, today, it hurts.
Many of us compartmentalize our emotions. Truth be told, it’s a coping mechanism for myself, but for those who are suicidal, it may be how they get through the day. Pushing things down and off to the side sometimes becomes the way they seem so together and happy when they need to be. These struggles are internal and often they will never see the light of day because of how adept their owner has become and concealing them.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one death by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Suicide among males is four times higher than females, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts is significantly higher among adults aged 18-29 than among adults 30+. This information is jarring. Even the act of looking up these statistics makes me fearful for the men in our organization who feel so trapped in their own mind that the only way out is to take their own life.
According to the Mayo Clinic, suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:
- Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
But what do you do when you see someone you care for exhibiting these or others like it?
Your willingness to talk about mental or emotional issues and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting them help and preventing suicide. Something to keep in mind is to never minimize or shame a person into changing their mind. Trying to guilt them into not going forward with it will only deepen their guilt and hopelessness. When someone is suicidal, they are often not mentally able to make decisions and desperately need intervention by others. Reassuring them help is available and the feelings they are having are treatable is key. If someone tells you they want to take their life, offer help and compassion but know there are ways to ensure their safety too. You can report the threat to the police and in most situations, they can physically intervene and take them to a safe place.
Life can get better.
My take away from this experience is to not allow a moment to pass you by when you think, “I could have said something.” We can all say something and having an emotionally open dialogue with our brothers, friends and family about suicide is an important first step in prevention.
For more information about Suicide and Suicide Prevention follow the links below