Close-up of intense face

We Need to Stop Making Light of Suicide


The other day, while in Target I overheard two young women in the bathing suit department. One held up a bathing suit and jokingly showed it to the other, asking “How about this one?” The other girl responded “I’d kill myself if I had to wear that.”

The following day I was in Kohl’s camp shopping for my daughters. A frazzled mother was talking aloud to herself as she passed me, her toddler in tow. “Did I get a gift receipt? I can’t remember if I did. Damn it! I’d like to just shoot myself today.”

Both moments felt like a sucker punch and momentarily took my breath away.

We are so flippant in our language. I am certain I was once guilty of it too. It’s so easy to make light of suicide — until it touches your life or the life of someone you love. And then, you quickly discover, there’s not a single funny thing about suicide. Survivors of suicide loss spend much of our days dodging triggers. We sit down to watch a television show only to have a joke made about suicide. We deal with the drug commercials that lump suicidal thoughts and actions right next to hives and rashes,when discussing possible side effects; as if they are even close to being on par with one another. We try to tune into election coverage only to hear words like “political suicide” tossed about.

Yeah, here’s the thing — if you can wake up in the morning, kiss your loved ones, walk outdoors and breathe in the fresh air, then there is no “suicide” in the demise of your political career.

We survivors are everywhere. And there is nothing funny about the loss we are learning to live with. So how about we stop treating it like a punch line or a reasonable response to a moment of frustration. How about we treat it like the serious and painful issue that it is; an issue that claims another life every 12.8 minutes in this country and shatters the world of those left behind.The triggers are abundant, we dodge them all day long. But that places the burden on us. And quite frankly, our shoulders can only take so much before our knees buckle. So please, take ownership of your words. Because I’m fairly certain a missing receipt or an ill fitting bathing suit is not something you would seriously end your life over.

And if they were, I promise you, it would be no laughing matter.

This piece was originally published on Reflecting Out Loud.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Young man with hands clasped together

Why I Don't Say My Son 'Committed' Suicide


The news spread quickly. Two youth from the local high school had died over the weekend. “They committed suicide” were the words I heard to explain the tragic loss of two young people, who had their entire lives ahead of them.

It is common to hear those two words together — commit and suicide. I cringe when I hear it. They didn’t commit a crime. They died by suicide.

I am a survivor of suicide loss. After my son’s death, I was helpless to respond to the painful words that were spoken in hushed tones around me. “It was a selfish act.” “Didn’t you see the signs?” “Are they in heaven?” “I wonder what went wrong in the family?”  I was unable to formulate responses to these false beliefs. I didn’t even know they were false. I just knew they held me hostage under a grief so powerful I could hardly breathe.

In short bursts of time when I could focus, I read. Books like “I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help,” “The Burden of Sympathy – how families cope with mental illness,” or “Man’s Search for Meaning,” helped me understand the suffering my son endured was so deep that he would take his own life.

Schizophrenia with delusional behaviors,” the doctor had said. Ryan was diagnosed with mental illness nine months before he died. In hindsight, I had seen signs, but I didn’t know they were signs of mental illness. I never even considered mental illness was real.  I just hoped he’d outgrow the anxiety, fear and worry that had insinuated themselves into his psyche. Sleeping too much, not wanting to go to school, avoiding social situations, becoming more isolated and failing grades were what I had dismissed as “normal” adolescence.

I am not alone. Sadly, I hear stories of other parents who thought their child would outgrow these behaviors, too. When behaviors such as these change someone’s personality, it could signal a growing mental illness.

I stopped really seeing my son because I thought I knew him by heart. I dismissed his complaints and his tears. I didn’t reach out to help him find his way because I was lost too.

Parents cannot look inside a child’s head to see what dark thoughts may be present, thoughts of worthlessness, of being a burden or thoughts of death. These are thoughts they can’t shake. Too ashamed to speak them aloud, our children suffer. To share these with another person they fear judgment, advice giving and not being taken seriously, or worse, feeling weak and powerless.

Without knowledge of mental illness as an actual brain illness, they languish. Without treatment, the illness can worsen over time and become a full blown chronic illness that is more difficult to treat or results in suicide. 90 percent of people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental illness.

All too often the “s-word” strikes fear in our hearts — fear of the act itself, fear of the unknown or fear of getting too close because suicide might be contagious.

We must remove the shame and stigma from mental illness and suicide, as well as the judgment youth often fear from talking about their feelings and seeking help. We must do a better job to help them share the darkness in their emotions so that parents, teachers and others can support the 1 in 5 who will be diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their lives. We must listen with our hearts even if we quake with inadequacy when we hear the pain of our child or student. We need to know of their suffering in order to move toward evaluation and treatment, if need be. Talking is only the first step.

We have to remove the shame if we want to reduce and eventually prevent suicide in our time. We need to practice using the words suicide and mental illness so they roll off our tongues as easily as bubble gum and dish soap. We need to face our fear that asking questions about suicide will give our loved ones the idea this could be an option.

With understanding comes a responsibility to educate others to effect change in the words we use when referring to someone with depression, anxiety or any other mental illness. We can increase our understanding of mental illness, suicide and open the dialogue. We can stop blaming the families or blaming the ones who took their lives. There is no blame in suicide.

Those students did not commit a crime. My son did not commit a crime. They believed the only way to end the pain was to end their lives. They died because they didn’t have the words to express the deep psychological/biological pain, which was not a sign of weakness but of brain illness.

I didn’t understand then, but I do now.

These truths eluded me for a long time. Sometimes truth has to hold the darkness before it can shine the light.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Why? What should they say instead? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

black and white portrait of a woman

The Difference Between Wanting to Die and Wanting the Pain to Stop


I didn’t want to die.

I only wanted the pain to stop: the pain that encircled and squeezed my ribcage, the heaviness that wrapped my brain in shadow, the agony that turned the whole world dark.

I needed it to cease.

It wasn’t one large trauma that convinced me death was my only option, but an unending series of small griefs that stole my hope. The everyday pressure of life became an unrelenting assault: a heavy hand upon my shoulder that crushed me.

One morning I had a minor argument with my husband and, like the proverbial straw on the camel’s back, it broke me into pieces.

And so I decided I had only one choice that made any sense at all. I felt everyone would be better off without me.

I made a plan. I wrote letters to my family. Through my tears, I called my beloved brother to say goodbye.

The realization of what I was saying took mere moments to settle upon his understanding and then, quickly, it sank in and he sprang into action. He cut me off, hung up on me and called my husband immediately.

My husband sprinted from his office building and, frantic, searched me out using an app on his phone. He flagged down a policeman. Called the ambulance. Got me to the hospital.

I drank the sludgy charcoal grit from a paper cup as I lay on the gurney and wept.

I didn’t want to die.

I only wanted the pain to stop.

The darkness was so thick. I could not see my children. I could not see the life I had made with the man I had chosen 25 years earlier. I could not see my family, the siblings who knew me from birth, the parents who held me since before I could remember. I could not
see my friends, who would have willingly grieved with me and encouraged me if only I had let them.

I could not see the love.

There was love all around me, but it was pushed away by the darkness, forcefully evicted from my consciousness by the suffocating black.

At the psychiatric hospital, I was surrounded by people whose experiences were much like mine. I heard familiar stories. I learned new ways to cope. I realized I had options. Most importantly, however, I saw I was not alone.

I got help.

I got a proper diagnosis and was put on medication that worked like a shaft of light into my weary, befuddled brain. This did not happen overnight. It took some time to find the right dosages and the correct prescriptions, but I persevered. I held onto hope that the right antidote to the darkness could be found.

I didn’t want to die.

I only wanted the pain to stop.

And it did.

Slowly but surely, with therapy and time, it did.

I am here today to plead with you: Don’t give up.

There is a reason you are reading this right now, at this very moment in time. This is a message you need to hear. You are not alone. The world itself longs for you to stay, is yearning for you to remain. The Earth is calling. Listen! There it is, in the warmth of the sun’s rays upon your upturned face, in the cool breeze that caresses your skin, in the song of a bird, the wonder of leaf and flower. The message is there to hear. The Earth is begging you not to give up.

For all its darkness, there is light left in which to walk, if only the eyes are unbound from despair.

Reach out. Talk to someone. There is love out there; there is love all around you. Just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s gone. Don’t believe the darkness. It is a liar and a thief.

I’m glad to be here today.

The rain falls and the sun shines. My children laugh and cry and fight and grow. My parents are grateful. My husband cherishes. My siblings support. My friends appreciate. Every day I see the love I couldn’t see before.

I believed the lies the darkness spoke, and I tried to take my life.

Some days it is still a struggle. Some days the love is dim and seems far away. Some days I grow discouraged and feel defeated. Some days I still want to leave this world (and all its tribulations) behind. But I keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I hold onto hope. I talk to those around me. I get a good night’s sleep. A new day dawns. I feel better.

I didn’t have to die for the pain to stop.

You don’t have to either. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was the moment that made you realize it was time to face your mental illness? What was your next step? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

The author's two sons, sitting outside at night with their arms around each other.

What I Wish I Could Have Read After Telling My Sons Their Father Had Died by Suicide


Two boys.

9 and 12.

“Please sit on the couch.

We have to talk.”

Three words.

I had to say them.

Words I knew would change their lives forever.

Words most children never hear.

Words no child should hear.

Telling Jack and Charlie their dad died was the most difficult and will forever be the most painful and torturous thing I will ever have to do in my life.

They were living a great life.

A life with a dad who loved them.

A life with no fear, terror, pain, hurt, guilt, shame and longing.

A life that was so good.

So right.

So beautiful.

I waited.

Waited to tell them.

I was terrified to tell them.

I let them finish their day at school.

I had to give them every last second in that life before they had to walk through the door of darkness, grief and the unknown into their new life.

They would grow up in a heartbeat.

They would experience pain no human should feel.

They were just little boys.

Two little boys who I had to tell how their dad died.

Two little boys who sat on the couch and cried.

Who were silent.

Who had no words.

From that moment I was terrified for them.

What will this do to them?

How will this change them?

Will they survive this?

Days were dark.

School was missed.

Life was so different.

Change every day.

Yelling.

Crying.

Silence.

Fear.

Anger.

Days are still tough.

School is still missed.

Tears still fall.

Not as frequent.

I’m not going to lie, those days still come.

They probably always will.

But just as I crawled out of darkness, those two little boys have too.

They have crawled with grace and dignity and beauty.

They have had to change and embrace a new life.

They have had to find their way every day.

They are two boys who have gone through more than most can bare and have grown into strong, amazing young men.

They have grown into two young men who understand life more than most adults.

They show empathy and compassion to those who struggle or who may not fit in.

They are funny, loving, talkative and kind.

They are survivors with soft edges.

They are both on the honor roll.

They play sports and are involved.

They play in the school band (and hate me for it).

They are on their phones too much and play too much Xbox.

They don’t always make their beds or brush their teeth without me yelling at them.

They talk back and can be mouthy.

They are two normal kids living a good life.

I can’t keep count how many people come up to me and tell me what nice, kind boys I have.

“Thank you. I agree” I say with a smile and try not to tear up.

They don’t know our story.

They meet Jack and Charlie and witness the genuine and kind human beings they are.

When their dad died I was terrified for them.

The terror is gone.

Will they be able to survive this?

Hell yes.

They have and are thriving every day.

Who will they become?

They have become two beautiful souls I am proud to call my sons.

I wanted to read this four years ago.

I wanted somebody to tell me my boys would be so good again.

I write this for you if you are afraid for your children.

Afraid like I was of what the future would hold for them.

This is for you.

Know the road may be long and scary but I promise they will be OK.

More than OK.

They will be amazing.

P.S. Jack and Charlie…

I am proud of you every damn day and honored to be your mom.

I love you.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

And older man hugging a child

My Dad Was the Last Person You Would Associate With Suicide


Five years ago today, the skies were a brilliant blue, etched with puffy white clouds. The weather was crisp and cool, filled with gentle breezes of winter air. Everything was as it should be. Until I returned home from picking up my son from school, and entered the kitchen to a handwritten note.

DO NOT GO OUTSIDE.
Call 9-1-1.
I’m sorry.

In one instance, on a small crumpled piece of notebook paper, my entire world was tipped upside down.

My Daddy, the most important man in my life, ended his own life.

While that last sentence might make you uneasy, I can assure you reading it is nothing compared to the aftermath I walked out and witnessed. I fell to my knees beside him, unable to speak or breathe. My Daddy was gone. Dead. And he did it to himself. Suicide? No. Not him.

If you ever got the great pleasure to know my Dad, you know he would be the last person you would associate with suicide. He was the life of the party, always cracking jokes and smiling. I have very few memories of him ever not in a great mood. He had an uncanny ability to see the positive in every situation. He was my rock. When I needed a good talk, he was always my go to call. I would call sobbing, and he would somehow end the conversation with a smile. He was magnetic and such a joy to be around. He was not who I would have flagged as someone with depression, anxiety or at risk of suicidal tendencies. Before that day, I wouldn’t of even given it a second thought.

It’s amazing how people can hide their pain. How they can hold in so much and put on such a brave face. How such bright smiles can be masking so much hurt. While we think we may know what’s going on in someone’s life, at the same time, we can be so wrong. Celebrity suicides seem to shine a bigger light on this. You’d think endless amounts of money and resources at your disposal would safeguard you from mental health disorders. Nope. It does not discriminate. The statistics are shocking, and the chances are you have or someday will have some sort of encounter with one of the many forms.

These yearly anniversaries used to really get me down. Flashbacks would haunt me, and I felt an overwhelming amount of grief. Finally, last year, I lost myself. In a moment of desperation and despair, I gave up, succumbing to the immense depression that ruled my day-to-day life.

What I never expected was that I would wake up the next morning with an undying will to live. Ending my life was not the answer. Starting my life was. See, my life didn’t end the day my Daddy took his life. It started the day I decided I wasn’t going to let it end. The day I made my mental health a priority, and admitted myself to intensive inpatient care, was the day I started living again.

I sit here, five years later. I know now there is nothing I can do to change that day. There is no way to change my circumstances, but you bet your ass I can change the way I react to them. The only person in this universe that can control my happiness is me. So, I must do all I can to ensure I do what I can to make my life full of things that bring me joy. I also learned to watch my thoughts. To stop self-doubt and self-sabotage before it turns into action. I learned the importance of seeing my psychiatrist regularly, and that my mental health is just as important as my physical well-being. There is no shame in seeking treatment.

I’ll say that again: There is no shame in seeking treatment. 

I wish so badly I could tell my dad that with the right treatment, life can be beautiful again. It can have meaning and purpose, even when it’s paired with depression and anxiety. I wish he knew, like I’ve come to learn, depression lies. Convinces you the world would be better off without you, which is never the case. I wish I could show him how much happier I am now because I sought help. I just wish he knew what I know now. I wish I could share all my new found wisdom. That there are so many of us out there, hurting, but learning how to heal. I think if he could see that I’ve made it through, he may of had the strength to make it through another day. There is always hope, and always someone who loves you, needs you and wants you to get better.

Follow this journey on Daddy’s Little Grill.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Musician Robb Nash Gets Signatures From 120 Suicide Notes Tattooed on His Arm


Robb Nash’s newest tattoo may have a bit more meaning than most.

Last week, Nash, a musician and motivational speaker, had the signatures of 120 young people who were once suicidal inked on his right arm.

After Nash’s band performs at schools, students often present the frontman with suicide notes from their past.

In an interview last Friday, Nash told Manitoba’s CBC News, he’s gotten 523 of these letters. He decided to honor the students by having the names of the first 120 who gave him notes tattooed on his arm.

“Everyday when I meet people that are suicidal, they always say that they feel alone….that no one else feels the same way,” Nash wrote in a Facebook post. “My hope is that in those moments, I can show them my arm, so they can see the names of tons of other people that once felt the same way and found the strength to get help and keep moving.”

His post reads:

For years I have been blown away as people have gotten tattoos with my lyrics on them. After thinking about this for a long time, I decided to get the signatures from the first 120 suicide notes given to me tattooed on my arm. (They are as much a part of my life, as I am of theirs.) Everyday when I meet people that are suicidal, they always say that they feel alone….that no one else feels the same way. My hope is that in those moments, I can show them my arm, so they can see the names of tons of other people that once felt the same way and found the strength to get help and keep moving. This is not something I plan to continue doing, so no one will be motivated to give me a note, in hopes of getting their names on my arms. This was just the first names. And I also hope that people will see these names and realize how many people out there are fighting depression and suicidal thoughts. It is something that has taken the life of too many amazing and talented people. It was also cool to see CTV, CBC and the Free Press show up to share this story. I hope many are inspired!

Nash shares his own story as part of the school presentations. As a teenager, he was involved in a near-fatal collision with a semi-trailer truck, from which he had a difficult recovery and “significant physical and emotional scars.” Though Nash founded a successful band, he felt his suicide prevention work was more important and decided to focus on school performances. He now does over 150 self-harm presentations each year.

Nash hopes that sharing his tattoo online will help further his mission.

“I also hope that people will see these names and realize how many people out there are fighting depression and suicidal thoughts,” Nash wrote. “It is something that has taken the life of too many amazing and talented people.”

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie, show, or song that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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