I’d like to think I would be a good advocate for suicide prevention but not as someone who has overcome suicidal tendencies but because I live a life as someone left behind after the suicide of my husband. At the moment it was out of left field, but hindsight shows me there were many clues, although I was not capable of seeing it from the previous vantage point. The more we know, the more we can do to help others have relief earthside from suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completions. I have used my experience to speak out about how I’ve healed and moved forward in life because of what happened but I’ve never spoken out for suicide prevention. This is probably because I didn’t feel qualified but that is baloney. If you are a human and you value, not only your life but the life of other humans, then you are qualified to be a voice and light to those who might be suffering silently.
There are nearly infinite ways people come to be in a mental state that could cultivate thoughts of taking their life. It might be obvious in some cases and entirely masked in others. The environment required will not necessarily look like what you would ever expect.
If you visit the website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline you will find the following list of risk factors:
- Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
- Alcohol and other substance use disorders
- Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
- History of trauma or abuse
- Major physical illnesses
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Family history of suicide
- Job or financial loss
- Loss of relationship(s)
- Easy access to lethal means
- Local clusters of suicide
- Lack of social support and sense of isolation
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution
- of a personal dilemma
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via media or internet)
I had never looked at my husband and thought that suicide was something he contemplated for a minute much less suspected it was looming for nearly eight years as I later discovered in unusual journals he had kept. Glancing over the list above, I can check off nearly half of the known risk factors, hiding in plain sight.
After his death, I had a deep need to understand who he was and how it all came to be. When I looked back over his family history and origin story…the rest of it makes sense. He experienced multiple traumas as a small child. Divorced parents, abandoned by birthfather, paternal grandmother committed suicide, harsh upbringing by a stepfather and not treated equally when other siblings were born as well as an unspoken sexual abuse by a male family friend. Add in the way society teaches our boys they are supposed to be tough and that expressing feelings is not safe explains why he created a life with the illusion of being in control. I understand, now, why he was the way he was. I even understand why he believed it all. Our brains receive these experiences and then determine what we need to do to feel safe, without us asking or knowing it’s doing it. It was his unquestioned default mode to project an exterior that completely masked the hidden pain.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi
This is where I advocate not only for suicide prevention but overall mental wellness for the masses. When we don’t run and hide from our painful past, are willing to question our own actions and beliefs, practice the hard conversations, not only with ourselves but with loved ones … this is where we can create an atmosphere to allow healing and release the layers of pain that weigh heavy. We don’t have to believe our own thoughts but we have to first know that we can challenge all of them. Being a voice that supports suicide prevention sounds a lot like someone who is willing to know themselves and be known to others. You can advocate for the overall wellbeing of those you love when you also advocate for yourself. Having a supportive team of professionals and loved ones is vital. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, about him or myself. I don’t know if he would have ever been willing to reveal his true self but I do believe it’s powerful to witness it firsthand in others. Seeing evidence of what is possible to overcome is a powerful force for the human spirit.