This past year I attended several funerals for friends who have taken their own lives. The most recent was the fifth I’ve been to in the last two years. As well, a good friend of my wife’s took her own life not too long ago. And more recently, a good friend of mine lost his brother to the battle with depression. Day in and day out I work with people who have tried to kill themselves. It’s a very real thing, and we ignore it. Suicide is not something we talk about in our culture, we ignore and deny it’s existence until it affects us directly. And chances are, we all will be affected by it in one way or another in our lifetime. So why do we keep turning a blind eye? Because, if we talk about it it seems too real. However, it is real. Suicide happens every day, on average about 120 per day take their own lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015:
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 44,000 people.
- Suicide was the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34.
- There were more than twice as many suicides (44,193) in the United States as there were homicides (17,793).
My last article was about helping others who are struggling. After re-reading it, I feel things were left unsaid. It’s important that we understand that we can’t stop someone from dying. If someone wants to to die, they will take their own life. But there are things that we can do to help those who struggle with suicidal ideation (thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.)
One of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do took place at the funeral I attended recently. It was bold and beautiful, and it brought me to tears. The young teenage daughter of the woman who took her life got up in front of the very large mourning crowd and, through sobs and tears, boldly called us all to action. She wisely proclaimed, “Suicide is not a joke. We joke about it all the time, and it’s time to take this seriously.” She went on to invoke action from the audience. Chastening us for ignoring the problem. As she, and what seemed to be the entire congregation, openly wept, she admonished, “there is more we can do to reach out to those who are struggling with depression. Don’t ignore what is right in front of you.” Cries for help are not cries for attention. They are the pleadings of a human suffering so intensely, they feel their only option is death.
This holiday season the number of deaths by suicide will increase, there is often an uptick in suicide at the end of the year each year. This time of year people are reminded of their loneliness and pain. At a time when others are boasting about their joy and abundance of “stuff” on social media, some of us look and see what we are missing in our lives. We’re reminded of what we have lost. What we no longer have. It’s easy to be insensitive to this, but as we are more mindful of how our boasting and bragging affects others we can be moved to compassion and eventually action.
This is a call to action for all of us. Be aware! Look around you! Raise your head from your self-indulgent holiday stupor and reach out to someone in need. Giving gifts is always great, please give more than just from your wallet! Give kindness! Give understanding! Give love!
We need more kindness and empathy. Refrain from judgment and accept others for who they are. Embrace the way they choose to manage their struggles, though it might not be how you would do it, it’s the best they can do.
We need more openness about our own struggles. We need people to stand up and be brave, sharing their stories. Stepping into your truth seems scary but feels so freeing. Don’t mask your pain and put on a happy face, go find someone who is struggling like you and connect with them. The more we wallow in our loneliness the more others who suffer as we do, continue to suffer.
Let us follow the Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted
There is no greater threat to the critics
and cynics and fearmongers
Than those of us who are willing to fall
Because we have learned how to rise.
With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.
When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.
We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.
We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.
We craft love from heartbreak,
Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment,
Courage from failure.
Showing up is our power.
Story is our way home. Truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong
– Brene Brown, from her book Rising Strong
This Holiday Season let us not worry so much about stepping into the light so that we can be seen. Instead let us go into the shadows where someone else is. Let us be brave as we stand along side someone who struggles to be seen. Let us, alongside the struggling, help them to step out of the shadows and into light.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org