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42,773 Reasons Why Suicide Prevention Matters

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The statistics are shocking. About 42,773 people die by suicide in America each year. This equates to approximately 117 suicides per day or one death by suicide every 13 minutes. For every death, 25 more people attempt.

43,000 is a really big number. I would certainly lose count trying to count that high. And while I’m not a mathematician, I do know that one is much smaller than 43,000. The number one isn’t nearly as impressive. One compared to 43,000 isn’t earth-shattering.

Until one is your father.

Your mother.

Your child.

Your best friend.

Your aunt.

When someone you love dies by suicide, it feels like 43,000 pounds of pain on your chest.

In Alabama, where I live, suicide was the second leading cause of death due to injury for adults. Right here, among people I know and love. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death for person aged 10 to 24 in the United States. Young people. Kids. Not “crazy” people.

Suicide respects no one. It has snuffed out bright lights like Robin Williams and Ernest Hemingway. Closer to home, suicide robs families of teenagers and grandparents, steals teachers and pastors from communities and takes mothers away from their infants. It is a gift to survive it. Yet, for someone who has just survived a suicide attempt, it often feels like failure to be alive.

494,169 people went to a hospital for injuries due to self-harm in 2014. Those are just the documented cases. Thousands struggle in silence every single day. It could be the lady at your hair salon, the hero who just returned from a tour of duty, your child’s teacher, your grandmother or your pastor.

The suicide epidemic is squeezing the life out of our families, churches and communities. This is the reason I’ve written, “From Pastor to a Psych Ward.” Sharing my story always carries with it a bit of necessary weight, but I refuse to remain silent any longer as people fall victim to the lie that there is no hope or help.

I’m a pastor and I once attempted suicide because my brain has an illness no different from other illnesses. I require medication to function as normally as possible, and I have to visit a specialist to keep track of my progress. The stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in Christian communities, keeps people locked in prisons of shame, refusing to admit they need help.

I share my story not just for those who have failed a suicide attempt. My story can give hope and practical resources to anyone fighting a battle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or paranoid personality disorder (PPD). People need to know they are not alone, and you can still be a Christian and have a mental illness.

Together we can stop the stigma of mental illness and start saving lives.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Patheos. To get a copy Steve’s book, from “From Pastor to Psych Ward” click here

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Life After Loss: Resources That May Help Suicide Loss Survivors

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There is no right or wrong way to heal after surviving a suicide loss. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one who died by suicide, it’s important to take time to heal and process your emotions on your own terms.

We’ve collected a number of resources to assist you as you begin to recover. The following resources are just suggestions and are in no way exhaustive. If you are concerned about your mental health, speak to a licensed professional.

For Your Mental Health

Speak to a Licensed Therapist or Grief Counselor

Speaking to a therapist or social worker can help you process any emotions you may feel after a suicide loss. Whether you chose to speak to someone days after losing someone or years, opening up can help you sort through any unresolved questions you may have. Below are some websites which can help you find a nearby mental health professional or teletherapy provider.

Join a Support Group

Meeting other survivors can help you heal as well. Try and find a group led by a mental health professional to ensure that the conversation stays productive. If you can’t find a group near you, you can try starting one with the help of a local suicide prevention or awareness organization.

Books and Workbooks

“After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief”

This handbook, written by two psychologists, is designed to help people cope with suicide loss. The book follows the days, weeks, and months after a loss, providing different ways to handle grief as time moves on. “After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief” also includes information about how to talk to children regarding suicide loss.

“Getting Through It: A Workbook for Suicide Survivors”

Written by a licensed professional counselor, “Getting Through It: A Workbook for Suicide Survivors,” provides organizational tools and guidance for processing your loss. The workbook is suitable for both adults and children.

“Someone I Love Died by Suicide: A Story for Child Survivors and Those Who Care for Them”

An illustrated book meant for children, “Someone I Love Died by Suicide” uses simple to understand language and is appropriate for younger children and families. The book was written by a licensed mental health counselor and is meant to be used in conjunction with therapy.

Ways to Memorialize Your Loved One

Add Their Name to the Digital Memorial Quilt

The AFSP offers an online space where suicide loss survivors can post stories about friends and family they have lost to suicide. Posts can include video, audio, text and photographs.

Plant a Tree in Their Honor

While not specific to suicide loss, memorial trees are an environmentally friendly and long-lasting way to memorialize someone you have lost.

Participate in an Out of Darkness Walk

Hosted by the AFSP, the Out of Darkness Walk raises money to prevent suicide. Walkers consist of suicide survivors, suicide loss survivors and others passionate about preventing suicide. There are over 350 walks throughout the U.S. for you to get involved in.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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9 Lessons I Learned From When I Contemplated Suicide as a Teenager

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I was just like you. Normally, I wouldn’t say anything so presumptuous or arrogant, but I was. Not all of you, just the people reading this who hate themselves, who are depressed or anxious, who think life isn’t worth living and there is no way it will get better. People who don’t have any friends, who are being bullied, who don’t have support at home, I was just like you at one time.

I don’t know exactly how you are feeling. This kind of assumption would be insensitive, but I know how I felt, and I bet we have a lot in common. I often felt unlovable and confused.

I’m much older now. Age brings wisdom if you learn from your experiences and face your fears. I love being around young people, often more than adults. Their creativity, energy, new ideas, talents and way of viewing the world is inspiring. They fear what they don’t know sometimes and think they should have all the answers. No one does. Learning is part of growing.

I’m not any smarter than any young person, but I do think I have learned some things that would benefit you, especially if you are struggling.

1. You might not actually want to die.

I really didn’t want to die when I thought I couldn’t continue on. I wanted to feel better. It took work, but it was possible and worth all the time and effort.

2. When you think no one cares, you aren’t thinking hard enough.  

If you were not here, you would be horribly missed.

3. High school ends, and real life begins.  

You will meet people who aren’t jerks. You can make friends and find love. I’m not just saying that. I know from reunions and Facebook that we find our person, sometimes more than one, no matter what our social status in school was.

4. You are so much stronger than you think.  

Everyone is afraid and insecure, even if they pretend not to be.

5. Most people have no idea how other people really feel about them.

They see our beauty, our talents and our heart much clearer than we see it ourselves.

6. The “faults” we hate, most people don’t even notice.

They are too busy thinking about their own lives.

7. It is the unusual, unique and different people who have invented or created things we use every day.

They are the artists, innovators, changers, people who inspire and often the most successful. When you are common, you aren’t threatening. There is nothing for others to be jealous or afraid of. We need more people like this in the world.

8. An enormous number of successful, brilliant, amazing people have been bullied.  

They include Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, Tyra Banks, Justin Timberlake, President Obama, Robert Pattinson, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Chris Rock, Michael Phelps, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Alba, Tom Cruise, and I could go on for pages and pages.

9. We are all important, and we all matter.

If I were not here, my children wouldn’t be either. I can’t imagine a world without them. It wouldn’t be fair to deprive the world of what you might do or whom you might love or help. It is possible to love yourself and be happy. I am, and I do. I am very loved, and I make a difference.

You can have a happy life too, if you stick around. It may not happen tomorrow, but it is worth waiting for. Please, choose life.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Thinkstock.

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To the Girl Sitting on the Ledge

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To the girl sitting on the ledge,

I know what you’re thinking. I know what you’re planning. It breaks my heart that you’re going through all this right now. It’s not fair, and I wish I could take all the hurt away. But I can’t. Here are some things I wish you would know.

It’s OK to go back home.

I know right now you feel like there’s no place for you to go. Like no one wants you and you’re all on your own. No one banished you. You’re allowed to go back home.

It’s OK to ask for help.

You’re so strong. You’re a fighter. Don’t give up now. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’ve lost the fight. It means you’re strong enough to know what it takes to win.

It’s OK to ask for forgiveness.

I know right now all you want to do is call someone and ask them to come get you. I also know that you don’t think they’d come. But let me tell you, keeping your pride is not worth throwing it all away. It’s OK to call and say sorry. They love you. They’ll be there.

It’s OK to forgive yourself.

There’s so much hurt in your life right now, and I know you feel like it is all your fault. But what if I told you that in just 48 hours, a doctor is going to get down on her knees to get to eye level, stare you in the eyes and tell you “It is not your fault.” You don’t have to beat yourself up anymore.

Quitting doesn’t make you a failure.

You’re feeling like you need a break. The thought of school is too overwhelming right now. I get it. Putting your life on pause for a few months to find the help you oh-so-desperately need is allowed. Quitting school doesn’t make you a failure. You don’t have to be done forever. Just postpone it until the next semester.

Boundaries are a good thing.

There are people in your life right now who are taking advantage of you. You feel like you can never please them all. Let me tell you a secret. You can’t. So let them go. Some won’t be a part of your life anymore and that’s OK, you don’t need them. Some will only have small access to your life and that’s OK too. You don’t owe them anything. Protecting yourself is the number one most important job you have in your journey of self-care. Boundaries are a huge part of that.

Don’t give up.

Giving up seems like the only option right now. I know it’s hard. I know you don’t feel like fighting anymore. But please, call someone and ask for help. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Love,

Yourself… two years later.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Image via Thinkstock.

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I’m Supposed to Be Getting My Daughter Ready for College

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I’m supposed to be getting my daughter ready for college. Instead, I have to go visit her at the mausoleum. My daughter was just days from being 18 when she lost her battle with depression and died by suicide. She had full-ride college offers from several great colleges with plans to become a psychologist.

We went to visit her top choices for college just seven months ago. We had a great trip and spent some great time together. We have pictures on each campus together and at the hockey game we got to attend. I am so grateful for that.

I’m not buying new sheets, towels and fun dorm room things. I’m buying flowers to place in her vase on the niche. I’m not preparing to only see her on school breaks and holidays. I’m trying to figure out how to live without seeing her until I myself move to heaven.

I walk through the stores seeing everywhere the sales and the signs for back to school and remember how much fun we had last year picking up crayons, markers, cool pens, notebooks and how we stopped to look at some dorm room décor. I remember getting tears in my eyes knowing that was her last year living at home.  Now I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that she moved to heaven.

I see her friends all posting about moving into their dorms, leaving home and getting to start their new chapters in life. I am so proud and so happy for all of them, but the sadness takes over for the unwritten chapter my girl was supposed to have.

Instead of talking myself into letting her out of my arms at the college dorms, she left this world just four months ago. My girl died by suicide. I didn’t get to have that long-lasting hug to say goodbye, that moment to embarrass her while meeting all her new roommates and friends or the moment of tears as I drove home alone leaving her to start her college journey.

I’ve had many drives home crying as I left the mausoleum alone, knowing the next time I will see her is when I move to heaven too.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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How el Dia de los Muertos Has the Potential to Help Those Bereaved by Suicide

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I first became aware of el Día de los Muertos after moving to Mexico in 2010. I arrived on October 22 and the build-up was in full swing. Even the precursor to a Spanish test consisted of hot chocolate and a chunk of pan de muerto sweet bread. The colorful altars dotted around my new city of Guadalajara were fascinating and intriguing to me, almost exotic in a typical British-tourist, “Ooh, the novelty,” kind of a way.

Almost exactly a year later, I traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula, where I married my Mexican now-husband. Four days after the wedding was to be the Day of the Dead, so the locality was filled with the ofrendas, foods, candles and incense smells of the occasion. That particular year, the celebration was to become a particularly memorable and meaningful one for me. I did not know this would be the case, but November 2, 2011 would be the last day I saw my brother alive. He took his own life almost seven weeks later.

Losing someone close by their own hand results in a unique form of bereavement. The facets are complicated, as well as difficult, to experience. One strong feature is the way in which the manner of death supersedes all other memories. Everything is marked. Enjoyment of the person as they were is taken away by nightmares, violent imagery, guilt, questions, analyzing, “What more could/should I have done?” and a multitude of other emotions.

These emotions lead to the belief that full happiness or appreciation of life will from now on be largely out of reach. All is tarnished by macabre knowledge and deep, deep sadness after personal exposure to suicide and the stigma that accompanies it. In all that blackness, the separation between the person and the death is obliterated, one equals the other. Similarly, the bereaved’s relationship to the person is often hard to identify because it is so hard to move beyond the manner of the departure.

Here’s why el Día de los Muertos means so much to me. This celebration faces much assumption, outside of the realms in which it is properly honored. It is known for grand spectacle, dramatic (some would say dark) imagery, elaborate costumes and makeup, music and atmospheres that are subsequently used and merged with Halloween ghouls and ghosts as the basis of exciting, themed nights out. Move beyond the increasing commercial use of features of the celebration, and I have come to think the Day of the Dead as the one occasion that has the potential to really help those bereaved by suicide. It certainly has done this for me.

The essence of the Day of the Dead (or the days, given it actually spans two) is honoring deceased ones, which obviously doesn’t necessarily mark it out from any other memorial. However, this one has a focus on really celebrating the life of the person, rather than marking through sadness. It is often described as an occasion when fun is poked at death.

day of the dead memorial

The Day of the Dead is a tradition, but it can also be carried out in a uniquely personal way, as it focuses on individuals and their particular families. It is a festivity built around recalling the deceased fondly, what they enjoyed, what they favored and what they wore. It’s about sharing with the deceased once again, bringing closeness to the affected family once more through food and drink offerings and getting together to talk, to discuss memories, happier times, stories, to openly express feelings and emotions about the person gone (something which can often be difficult for a family affected by suicide).

The key for me is this festival gives someone bereaved by suicide the opportunity to feel OK about moving beyond the death, to look at how their loved one lived well. I know my brother would rather be remembered for his music, his love of literature and even his firm belief in his right to smoke than he would the way he became ill with severe depression and in turn the way he died. My reading about the Day of the Dead tradition is what has allowed me to appreciate this so much more. I have spent too long dwelling and being forever stuck on my loss in terms of the death. I’ve realized now, almost five years later, I want to remember my brother for who he was, not what happened.

sister and brother

Last November 2, I scattered Martin’s ashes, cried and felt rather empty. This year, I shall think back on him, not his death, and I will build an ofrenda with his favorite books films, music, plectrums, photos, “Private Eye” magazine, his hat, scarf and Venezuelan wool jacket, a can of Irn Bru, crisps, footballs and Lego. I even declare I’ll buy an ashtray and some Rizlas! I will make pan de muerto and hot chocolate. I will hold a gathering where I will poke fun at death and reminisce about him, who he was in life, not who he became as a result of death.

Read more of Heather’s story on Our Side of Suicide.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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