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What We Can't Forget to Talk About When We Spread Suicide Awareness

Today is World Suicide Awareness Day. September 10th. Five years and five days after I tried to end my life.

Well, the most recent attempt. This one was different. There was no ambivalence. In high school, I was in too much pain and didn’t want to face life as it was, but still wondered if things may improve. In university, I was again in too much pain and just needed it to stop. This time, I was done. My husband wanted a separation. I received the text message, “There are papers at the door.” We were supposed to go on a date that night. I had just got out of being the hospital for eight months. I still had to go a couple days a week. I had no job. I had left grad school. Then left college. My relationships with family and friends had deteriorated. I felt horrid. I had just gained a lot of weight in a matter of months. And I was not allowed to exercise.

My husband was the one thing in my life that I never once doubted. The one thing left I felt good about. I knew right away what I had to do. Within a matter of minutes I had decided. And I was making damn sure it worked. I wasn’t dealing with people finding out I had tried. This was no call for help. I refused to continue. After being sick most of my life, and fighting for the last eight months in treatment, I had nothing left to get through this. And I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to live that life.

Last year for World Suicide Prevention Day, I made and distributed the yellow and orange ribbons to help raise awareness. Someone I knew killed themselves that day. I didn’t know them well, but it impacted me. It made me question World Suicide Prevention Day. Did he know it was World Suicide Prevention Day and did that contribute to his decision to take his life that day? Could we be doing more harm than good in awareness campaigns? Are we just to make ourselves feel better? Feel like we’re doing something when we feel helpless? To pat ourselves on the back for our intentions? Suicide rates have increased alongside efforts to raise awareness. Correlation, yes, but could there be something more? To date, our prevention strategies have either not been evaluated or failed to show evidence of effectiveness.

What research does clearly tell us is the two primary risk factors for suicide are previous attempts and a mental illness. I had both. I never received proper treatment until my early 30s, and not for lack of trying on my part. I remember wanting to die since I was a young child. My heart was failing due to anorexia. They said I needed a pace-maker. I was waiting to die, and I almost did. Doctors just told me to eat and that I was underweight. I finally sought out a psychiatrist at 30, but when I missed an appointment because my anxiety was too bad to leave the house, he refused to continue seeing me. If I was treated as a child or a teen, I wouldn’t have had to lose everything.

Maybe we should stop pouring our resources into awareness campaigns and improve access to proper care. Only 36 percent of youth with a mental disorder are estimated to receive appropriate treatment. Mental illness — the largest cause of disability worldwide, more costly than all childhood cancers combined, and yet we don’t have enough publicly funded treatment. Moreover, the lack of research into improving treatments disgusts me. It is a moral obligation that the system is fixed. There is no time to wait. And another awareness campaign isn’t going to cut it. We tell people to ask for help but there is no help available when they do. It you receive the kind of response that I did when attempting to reach out, you’d understand why people quit. And I am a white, middle class, straight female — by far more likely to get proper care than most.

Paramedics kicked in my door. Last I remember they came into my bedroom, and speaking as though I was some annoyance to them and they had better things to do, asked me why I wouldn’t open the answered the door and told me to get out of bed. My family had sense something was up. I’m not sure why. I hadn’t told them about Jason. They had been begging him to go the house and check on me. He was the only one with a key. My Dad saw Jason drive up, turn around and drive away while I was being put into the back of the ambulance. I have never talked to him to this day. Last I saw him we were cuddling in bed.

Next I remember I was in the hospital. It is all hazy, and as though I was watching myself, I recall a brief moment when I was convincing the doctor to let me go home. He did. I didn’t wake up and fully regain consciousness for more than a day later in bed. I was angry that people had intervened. I planned to do it again, and I knew I had to use a more lethal method. But my family and friends refused to leave me alone for weeks. I’m not sure when I let go of the idea to try again. A couple months later I received an ambulance bill. A month or two after than, a card with the number for a distress center. That was the health care response I got for trying to kill myself.

Yesterday, I drove to work barely able to control my excitement to get there. I walk around in disbelief of how lucky I am. I would never have gotten to where I am if I didn’t have my family, friends and Dr. Marion Olmsted. She saved my life. She had hope for me when it took me years to see it. I wish I could’ve gotten to her sooner, but I am so thankful that I finally did. I’m a rare case. Not everyone is so lucky.

If you’re in need of help – reach out early. I could have avoid all this had I received proper treatment as a child, but still, getting treatment is the best thing I did. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it in ways you can’t imagine right now. To everyone else, let’s make sure treatment is available when people do reach out. Telling people to talk about it, but being unable to respond when they do is simply unethical.

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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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 Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

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