Suicide Awareness Month: First in a Series
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think that is often true. I’ll never forget the great visual that suicide prevention impact entrepreneur Sally Spencer-Thomas https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/ gave the audience at EAPA’s 2016 World EAP Conference, held Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2016 at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.
Spencer-Thomas discussed how employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be shining lights of hope in the social movement of suicide prevention. She concluded her compelling talk by having the lights turned off. Then she asked audience members who’ve been affected by suicide – first indirectly, and then directly – to hold up their cell phones.
As the room went from dark to heavily lit from all of those cell phones, it was apparent what a terrible thing it is to be that depressed, in the dark, with no idea where to turn, and how MANY of us have been impacted by this disturbing trend.
“No one should die in isolation and despair,” she said.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that each year, more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of loss. In many cases, friends and families affected by a suicide loss (often called “suicide loss survivors”) are left in the dark.
‘Left in the Dark’: A Personal Reflection
I was among the many left in the dark in April 2008 after my best friend I’ll call “Ed” for confidentiality purposes, took his life. I got the call from another good friend and like him, was practically in shock. Ed? The one middle-aged guy among us who didn’t have a pot belly? Ed, who watched what he ate more than the rest of us? Ed, who jogged regularly?
Two other friends who weren’t in very good health at the time – now bad news about either of them would not have shocked us – I’m sorry to say. But “Ed”? We knew Ed was plenty stressed about his job, but when wasn’t he? Ed was a health care administrator who often lamented having to balance a budget, his long hours, and lately, the dire health of his wife.
Ed would get past it. He always had. Right? Or was his toughness more of a front? Was he, in fact, closer to the brink in the past than he had ever let on? You had to wonder.
I gave Ed credit for stepping into the light and seeking help from a mental health professional. Why didn’t that help? Some friends said Ed was the unfortunate victim of a sudden change to his medication that left him completely unable to cope with his struggles. Drastic side effects to meds can lead to devastating results, of that I have no doubt.
On the other hand, Ed used to joke about someone finding him dead in his office, slumped over on his desk (perhaps the victim of a heart attack). He sometimes mentioned dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse. Was this a premonition of sorts?
We’ll never know the answers. All I know for sure is that if a middle-aged guy in good physical health could in fact be suffering from mental illness, a resilient guy who had overcome lost jobs and other troubles in the past, then suicide can take the life of anyone.
As NAMI points out, it’s vital to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. Such talks are never easy – but start them we must, because we never know whose life we might save.