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This is the first in a three-part series on mental health awareness.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

depressed1Did you know that there were words to the theme in the hit film and TV series M*A*S*H? The song was written for Ken Prymus (the actor playing Private Seidman), who sang it during the faux suicide of Walter “Painless Pole” Waldowski (John Schuck) in the “Last Supper” scene in the 1970 film. The tune was called, “Suicide is Painless.”

Now it’s true that the film’s director, Robert Altman, said the ditty had to be the “stupidest song ever written.” Still, I’d like to make the point that suicide is hardly painless, especially for the survivors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; and these rates are increasing.

Why has suicide reached what many consider to be epidemic levels? Too many guns? Newsweek reports that, “the suicide rate has grown even as the portion of suicides by firearm has remained stable.” The economy? Newsweek points out that, “the shift in suicides began long before the recession…”

“Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of a suicide are haunted by the same questions and what-ifs that can never be answered.”

The truth is, there is no easy answer, but suffice it to say that this disturbing trend has affected a LOT of depressed2people, including myself. My late friend, I’ll call him “Allan” for confidentiality reasons, took his life eight years ago, and none of his close friends saw it coming. Allan didn’t seem to fit the profile. He was dealing with OCD, but otherwise seemed his usual generally upbeat, sociable, and physically fit self. (He was an avid jogger and lacked the paunch the rest of us had.)

Now it’s also true that Allan was recently being treated for some mental health issues (as I mentioned, he had OCD), and he was also coping with a very ill wife. But that had been going on for some time. Besides, Allan had always been incredibly resilient to life’s problems in the past. So, just as he always had, we assumed that Allan would pull through these setbacks as well. How wrong we were.

Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of a suicide are haunted by the same questions and what-ifs that can never be answered. All we know for sure is that they’re gone, but they’ll never be forgotten – and if keeping their memory alive and passing along even a snippet of their story helps keep someone else from taking their life – the effort is worth it.

As well as sharing the stories of our loved ones, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/ lists other things that survivors can do, including: sponsor a walk to raise awareness of suicide, bring awareness about suicide prevention to a local school, or create a quilt square in memory of a loved one.

One thing is for sure, suicide is not painless, at least not for the survivors.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).