September is National Suicide Prevention Month
Increasing suicide awareness and prevention has to be an ongoing effort.
Posted Sep 08, 2018
Given the tragic events of this past summer with the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, this month — September of 2018 — is a crucial month to stand up and take notice around the topic of suicide awareness and suicide prevention.
In 2016, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. (Source: NIMH)
Each year the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds an Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in many cities across the United States. The walk brings together different people, each with a different story, that leads them to walk under the stars. Each walk starts at sunset and participants walk over 16 miles through the night to take a stand against suicide.
Since I heard about the walk several years ago, I always wanted to be a part of it. I couldn’t imagine anything more rewarding than walking for suicide, among people who have been touched by suicide. I wanted to walk in the dark, through the streets of New York City, the greatest city in the world. However, my circadian rhythm seems to be permanently fixed to that of a super-lark. I go to bed embarrassingly early and I wake up before dark without an alarm. This circadian rhythm with which I was born seems to be counterintuitive to the structure of the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. The dilemma leaves me longing each year. Here is some information about the 2019 walk.
In addition to the suicides of these two celebrities, which demonstrates to us that — and this bears repeating — regardless of any appearance a person presents to the outside world, we never truly know what they are experiencing on the inside. Money, fame, success, a relationship where the couple smiles for the cameras — whatever situation a person may have that the rest of us consider enviable does not ensure happiness.
There were two more suicides this past summer that did not make the headlines. In May, 2018 actress Margot Kidder passed away. She played Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane in the series of these popular movies. The cause of death was originally not specified, but in early August, the NY Times published an article stating that the cause of death had been determined as suicide.
Additionally, as I read the NY Times online each morning, I’m on alert for people who die at a young age. This summer I noticed an article about a woman who died at the age of 46. It turned out that the woman who passed away was a talented and compassionate lawyer who had dedicated her career to working on behalf of young immigrants. Her name was Amy Meleson. According to the article, Ms. Meleson suffered from depression, ADD and anxiety. In July of 2018, she took her life.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), anorexia and major depression in 1990. At that time there was a huge stigma around mental illness, especially BPD for which the prognosis was poor. My extended and rocky course of treatment included multiple inpatient hospitalizations, multiple admissions to partial hospitalization programs, and an extended stay at a 24/7 supervised residence, all the while participating in individual therapy and taking psychotropic medications.
Due to pervasive feelings of inner chaos, a profound sense of emptiness and an intense fear of abandonment, I attempted suicide four times. Additionally, anorexia is the deadliest psychiatric illness. Drastically restricting calories causing weight to drop to unsafe levels, results in death from either cardiac arrest or from suicide because the pain of living with and feeling controlled by calories, rituals around eating, extreme fear of gaining weight and from other obsessions becomes unbearable. Please be aware that anorexia, like other mental and physical illnesses, is not a choice.
On August 26th of 2012 I wrote a post titled Contemplating Suicide: No Way to Understand Unless You’ve Been There. Of all the posts I’ve written on this blog, this post by far has the most views. This is a statement that for the last six years, suicide has been on the minds of many people in this country.
When Robin Williams killed himself in August of 2014, his suicide shocked the country, but his irrevocable act set in motion awareness of the epidemic of suicide in the United States. Mental illness, depression and stigma entered our vernacular. As a psychiatric social worker and also as a person with psychiatric illness who entered recovery during that time, I was listening. During the four years from the summer of 2014 until this past summer, I heard awareness take a back seat to other issues (which I won’t get into) preoccupying our country.
Right after Robin Williams died, I read an essay published in the Op-Ed page of the NY Times by Kay Redfield Jamison, a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.In 1995, she wrote “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness,” about her own experience with bipolar disorder, which she was diagnosed with in early adulthood. The essay Jamison published in the NY Times was titled “To Know Suicide.” The piece didn’t mention Robin Williams, but it was clearly a response to his suicide and in her writing she eloquently attempted to communicate the level of pain and desperation a person feels when they consider taking their life.
My most recent suicide attempt was in March of 2014. I chronicled my feelings from the evening prior in a piece I wrote titled “Letting the Light In,” which appeared in the anthology Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, co-edited by John Gunderson, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and McClean Hospital’s director of the Borderline Center clinical, training and research programs and Perry Hoffman, Ph.D., president of the National Education Alliance of Borderline Personality Disorder.
“The internal emptiness, the pain—the night prior to the overdose, I had lain on my living room floor, hand outstretched toward my cat, howling as though I was a wounded animal, my snot dripping into the carpet.”
The most frightening aspect of these mental illnesses to me — and I imagine to many other people who suffer from depression or another illness that may cause one to consider suicide is that there are no guarantees. I’d work incredibly hard to make it through a depressive episode, one that may last a year or more and like a tsunami, all the feelings that accompany an intractable depression came roaring back. Admittedly, at times I became complacent. I learned from taking each episode apart, then I moved on.
I remain haunted, ever watchful. I know the difference between suicidal ideation, intent and a plan. Now, I recognize the warning signs and I can reach out for help immediately. I no longer wait, hoping the thoughts will disappear on their own. I’ve learned asking for help is a sign of strength and courage.
We are all strong and courageous.
[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.