Mental health is a topic I write about often, and always will. It holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, one of which being, that I lost my Dad to suicide when I was a kid.
Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. Sadly, suicide still remains stigmatized. It is a topic that no one wants to talk about. Bringing it up, even to people who have no experience with it in their personal lives, causes pain. It pulls at our very souls, it can make us cry, it makes us uncomfortable.
Imagine how it makes survivors feel.
When a person dies by suicide, those who are left behind go through grief, like anyone else. What’s different is, their grief is tinged with shame. And it shouldn’t have to be this way.
The history of suicide is such that it was considered a crime. The very statement, “committed suicide” lent itself to that as well. Words matter. Although it is no longer a crime, the attachment to that shameful residue remains. In recent years, mental health professionals and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) have worked diligently to change the language around suicide. Removing the word “committed” and replacing it with “died by” is terminology that serves to remove the stigma.
When my Dad died by suicide in 1991, there was no other way to say it, other than “he killed himself” or “he committed suicide”. Even way back then, at the tender age of 13, I wasn’t ashamed of my father’s illness, or of how he died. I was angry that he was no longer here. But more so, I was angry that no one seemed to understand that it wasn’t something to make light of. That he wasn’t some “crazy” person who just “offed himself”.
The conversations have gotten better in the last 28 years for sure. People willingly discuss their personal battles with mental illness with complete strangers these days, where before, it was something to be shoved in a deep, dark closet. But it still isn’t enough.
Suicide rates in the United States are rising. It is a leading cause of death for Americans. Researchers with the CDC found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide.
The conversations must continue, at home, at work, between friends and family, and in a professional setting. Today, we have more resources at our disposal than ever, we just have to utilize them. There are text apps for therapy. Most states have mental health programs in place, even if you don’t have health insurance. Drug companies have programs where they will cover your medication if you file with them with a signature from your provider.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t always a train.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, there are valuable resources available here: