September Is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

To know the pull of suicide is to have walked in the footprints of our pain.

Posted Sep 04, 2020

We’ve got another epidemic in this country. This one is longer-lived. It’s one of depression and suicide.

©  solarseven  | Shutterstock
Source: © solarseven | Shutterstock

I keep returning to the summer of 2018, when we learned of the tragic suicides of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, just days apart. From these much-adored individuals’ deaths, this country took away that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness and that one never knows what challenges a person may be facing behind closed doors.

Their deaths opened up a much-needed conversation about mental health. Other celebrities came forward to talk about their experiences with depression, post-partum depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, PTSD, and more.

A stigma still exists around the topic of mental health. People still whisper about depression while they speak openly about cancer and COVID-19. No one wants to hear I’ve attempted suicide. It’s as though the propensity is contagious, like measles. No one wants to hear that when I get severely depressed, my illness can include psychotic features. That scares people to no end. The word “crazy,” a word I have a great distaste for, is spoken in hushed tones behind my back.

The pain that drives someone to attempt to take their life is unimaginable to the person who has not reached those depths. People have varied emotional tolerance, just as with physical pain. The myth continues to exist that if you ask a person if they are thinking about taking their life, you will somehow put the idea into their head. Bull. Believe me, if you ask them and they have not thought about it, you will not cause them to kill themselves. Conversely, if the person you care about has been contemplating suicide, and you ask them in a non-judgmental way if they have thought about suiciding (no euphuisms please), you will open up an opportunity for them to talk about how they are feeling, and you will be gifted with the chance to save a life.

©  Kubko  | Shutterstock
Source: © Kubko | Shutterstock

I think about my most recent suicide attempt (my fourth), over six years ago, in 2014, a year after my father passed away. Hearing that, most people assume it was an attempt borne out of grief, but it was the opposite. It was an attempt with the roots mired in resentment and wrath. 

I had been anticipating peace and relief when he passed away, finally, and what I felt was a tsunami of internal chaos. I’d been chasing the phrase “you are good enough” from his narrow lips, and now, I realized, I’d never hear it. I would never know his approval. I’d been chasing the need to please him, from taking French in seventh grade to playing chess and softball to doing his grocery shopping when he became a recluse. All I heard was, “Why did you get me this shit cake?”

Now, all opportunity was lost. My unconscious raged. I couldn’t destroy him, so I decided to destroy myself. In the early hours of that morning, March 1st, I heard voices (his voice?) telling me I needed to die, that I’d be better off dead, that I didn’t deserve to live. So, I obeyed and swallowed a bottle of pills.

Daylight came, and I was still alive. Mid-morning came, and I hadn’t died, but I felt sick, so I took myself to the ER.

My former psychiatrist and therapist, Dr. L., doesn’t think my depressive episodes will ever get to a suicidal level again. I’m not so sure. Now that I’ve learned to direct my anger outwardly and appropriately, not imploding or exploding, she seems to feel rage won’t fuel the suicidal fire again.

Depression, thanks to my father and generations beyond on his side of the family, is hard-wired into my DNA. The depression genes snake messily through the pathways of my brain. Who knows when they will hit a land mine?

This past summer, Hilary Tisch, a 36-year-old woman who was a jewelry designer and gemologist and one of the founding partners of Dôen, a Los Angeles-based brand, took her life. She, too, knew depression. Her father, Steve Tisch, is an entertainment mogul known for co-owning the New York Giants, as well as producing films, including Forrest Gump, Snatch, and Risky Business. Although she came from a life of privilege, that did not inoculate her from the perception that the anguish of depression was interminable.

©  Paul Craft  | Shutterstock
Source: © Paul Craft | Shutterstock

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Let us, as a country, recognize depression is a debilitating disease, not to be shamed or stigmatized, but one worth asking for and receiving help. Let us spread the word that asking for assistance is a sign of courage and strength, not one of weakness and failure. 

More people are dying by suicide each year. It’s time to reverse the momentum of the last 17 years by making treatment more accessible and reducing the stigma that currently accompanies mental illness.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

To find a therapist near you who specializes in depression, please visit the Psychology Today Therapist Directory.