Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
September 10-16, 2017 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide is a difficult topic for many to talk about, think about or even commit to reading about. For many, I am sure it was easier to pass over this article and move onto something else. It is one of those topics I myself struggle to write about. With any chronic illness, there may come a time when symptoms become overwhelming, when the judgments from those we love can weigh us down and with the large number of psychiatric manifestations that Lyme and co-infections can cause, some days can be significantly harder than the rest.
A recent article written by USA Today in July of 2017 mentions a report done by a New Jersey psychiatrist published in June of 2017. The article mentions how significant suicidal thoughts are among patients with Lyme disease and co-infections, and how this may provide information of unexplained suicides each year. The article states, “More than 44,000 people took their own lives in 2015, the most recent year for which data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available. The rate of 13.3 suicides per 100,000 people was the highest since 1986. The paper’s author, New Jersey-based psychiatrist Dr. Robert Bransfield, estimates that as many as 1,200 of those suicides – as well as more than 14,000 incidents of self-harm and 31,000 suicide attempts – may be attributed to Lyme and associated diseases each year.”
This statistic for Lyme-related deaths is vague, but there is reason for that. Many who have a Lyme diagnosis know it is a rather controversial disease to treat. With the lack of knowledge toward the disease, many people often go misdiagnosed and therefore do not even know that what they may have is, in fact, Lyme disease. Lyme disease is known as the “great imitator” and therefore many people are given a wrong diagnosis for their wide variety of symptoms. The longer the disease is left untreated, the more chronic it can become and the more difficult it may be to treat. This is why it is hard to have statistics for Lyme-related deaths and suicides. There is also the lack of proper testing, so often the symptoms are treated rather than the disease as a whole, which can harbor its own risks. It is a dense and complicated subject that can stir up many conflicting arguments within the medical community and within our own personal social circles.
Statistics are just a part of this equation though. The important message of this article is to help those out there who deal with the psychiatric manifestations, the judgments and the daily struggle of living life with a complex disease like Lyme. It can be heavy some days, and anyone can have dark questioning moments pass through their minds. When those moments do arise, it can be complicated to find someone to trust and to talk to. Quite often, Lyme patients are paying for treatments out of pocket and this does not leave much money left for proper psychiatric help. With the limited time in office visits with our doctors, there is not much time left to talk about how we are feeling emotionally, and our doctors are generally not trained psychiatrists, as much as we wish they were. With Lyme disease being largely unknown, others close to you may judge you and you may feel like there is no one left to talk to. Even if there is, the psychiatric disturbances the disease can cause can make you feel like there is no one out there who can understand you, no one who can listen to you and no one to reach out to, but there is. There always is.
Throughout treatment, when I was at my worst, I would simply do a Google search for the suicide prevention hotline. Even knowing that if the moment came when things got too dark, I would have someone to talk to made me feel comforted. I also took the time to remove anything bothersome or overwhelming in the Lyme community and on social media and found a good, small group of people with my disease to surround myself with. Setting boundaries, speaking up and letting others know when things were not comfortable for me became easier and easier.
The most important thing about getting to where I am today is that I told myself every day I was getting better, I am healthy and I will beat this disease. The more I told myself that, the easier it was to believe, and then it slowly began to become true. Those moments when the dark thoughts did creep in, I would be verbal about needing help, and although it was complicated to say, I learned to use those words.
If you do need help, know there is always someone who wants to help you, someone who will listen and someone to call or talk to. Sometimes this is not the people we want it to be, and help can come in the strangest forms, but you have to be willing to accept help when it does flow to you. I hope in reading this, it helps others with not only Lyme, but other chronic conditions know this is not a topic to be ashamed of, or something wrong – it is something that needs to be talked about, and the more we do, the more we can help others reach out.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.