The month of September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control 44,000 Americans die by suicide each year. It is the fourth leading cause of death for people 18-65 years old. For every death by suicide, there are over 25 attempts.
During these troubled times of COVID, civil unrest, erratic back-to-back hurricanes, wildfires burning across several western states and political polarization, folks who experience anxiety, depression and mental health issues may experience the inability to cope.
They may withdraw or begin to abuse alcohol or other substances. Their attitude or behavior may change suddenly. They may talk about being hopeless or being a burden to others or having no reason to live.
People can put on a brave face. Their outward appearance can mask the pain they feel inside, letting others think all is well and that nothing is out of the norm. Throughout my life I’ve known some wonderful people who flourished with friends and family, yet their internal pain was left unspoken of, and they left this life all too soon by their own hands.
I recently saw a former co-worker share his experience and suffering he and his family went through when, years ago, his father took his own life. He shared this post to his Facebook, last week during National Suicide Prevention week. I read it three times and cried. I had no idea what he and his family had been through and the void it still left in their heart, so many years later.
But I can relate.
Growing up in Miami I had several teen and early twenties friends who committed suicide when their family didn’t accept the fact that they were gay.
In my Messenger log, I still have the last conversation I had with a friend who ended up taking his own life, just a few short years ago. I still remember laughing with him just hours before. I had no clue how badly he was suffering. Had no idea about his demons. Only his true inner circle knew and yet it was still completely unexpected, even to them. I was stunned to hear the following morning he was gone.
To this day, I still see his smile and hear his laughter and voice in my ear.
We are so busy arguing with each other over politics and masks that we are likely missing signals and cues that some of our friends may need our help.
Right now, many of us already feel vulnerable and isolated just trying to survive a pandemic, let alone the rest of what’s going on in the world.
We need to be kinder to one another. We are quick to judge and label folks as weak, or just being stupid or silly or tossing dumb words out there like, “Everything is fine man, just get over it.”
Our words and attitudes can either hurt or heal someone feeling a bit fragile. Our words could send them over the edge to something worse and irreversible.
During this month and the rest of this crazy year, please take the time to reach out and check on your friends and family. Seek out those who have mentioned feeling unloved, alone, useless, or unwanted.
Talk without judgement.
More importantly listen to what they say and feel, what they need and how, together, you might find help.
If your friend or loved one needs to vent, just listen, but listen attentively. Take in every word and offer every way possible to help them get the services they need to get through the situation.
I’ve often received calls in the middle of the night from friends that thankfully, know I am always here for them, come hell or highwater. Often, those calls are folks that just need to be heard and understood. They needed a shoulder to cry on. A set of ears to listen without expecting to hear anything in return except reassurance that all can and will be okay, with the right support and help.
Sometimes people contact me by my work email. They prefer the anonymity so they can speak their minds freely asking me how or where to get help or closure to certain things in their lives.
I’ll always help out however I can, to make sure folks who need professional help and services find the means of getting it.
Everyone matters. Everyone is a precious gift to this world. Everyone has a voice. Everyone should contribute to ending the pain and suffering of others.
I am thankful that people heard my voice during my time of need. That I wasn’t dismissed as a stupid teenager not able to, “Just get over it.” Thankful to be taken off the streets during a brief bout of homelessness. And thankful I got the help I needed to be able to stand strong today and not be another statistic.
If you need help, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are definitely worth it!
Patty Leon, Senior Editor