We’re all on our own path in life. Who we are today is a collection of our past experiences that make us what we are. None of us are alike, yet we all can relate to each other through similar feelings. As we shine a light on suicide in September through National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, consider these three separate stories:
Tom* is a 19-year-old male, extroverted, fulfilling his dream of working in the entertainment industry, and for a company he’s always wanted to work for. It has been his lifelong dream. Life is good. He has many friends, and is the happy-go-lucky guy you want to know. He makes friends anywhere he goes. He is known for his quick wit and fun-loving attitude.
Now, imagine a 60-something-year-old male, Wayne,* in his second phase of life, after serving our country as a United States Marine. He’s back in school, fulfilling his dream to build an education based on his experience in the military, dealing with PTSD issues and the like that many service people experience upon their return to “normal” life.
And then there’s a 14-year-old female, Emma.* New to high school, she’s motivated to earn money and save for her future. After school, before she starts her homework, she works as a papergirl, delivering newspapers to neighbors within a two-mile radius of her house. She has some friends, though she thinks she’ll never be as cool as her athletic popular older brother, so she spends a lot of time escaping to a literary reality that exists in classic books.
We’re all on our own path in life. On the surface, none of these people have anything in common. Yet, they could all be anyone we know. And for some of us, we do know Tom, Wayne and Emma. I did and I do. What you don’t know is that Tom is wrestling with his sexuality and finding his place as a young man in this world. What you don’t hear about is Wayne, grappling with his own PTSD issues; in his desire to help others, he is actually seeking the help he truly needs. And what you don’t see is Emma, hiding behind the façade of book characters and money-making dreams to mask her need to socialize with those who she feels see her as boring and uncool.
For each of these people, the outside hid what they were feeling on the inside. Each one of these people got to the point of complete and utter feelings of hopelessness. Each of these people decided to take matters into their own hands in what they felt was an attempt to do the world a favor. Each of these people got to the point where they truly believed the world would be a better place without them. And each of these people went through with the act. Each of these three people made real and final acts of attempting suicide. And two of them completed the act.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. In 2017, there were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) as there were homicides (19,510) in our country. And in Colorado, since 2016, a United Health Foundation study has noted that our state has seen the highest increase, year after year. This is a preventable public health problem that we can all work to end. One way is through awareness and the destigmatization of mental health issues. Just as doctors help with our physical health, therapists can help with our mental health. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to check in with friends and family to make sure those around us are doing okay. Don’t assume someone is fine, just because they may seem okay on the outside.
Tom, Wayne and Emma each fit a different demographic, and some might see a higher rate of suicide, though all demographic groups experience suicide. Female students, like Emma, attempt suicide twice as often as male students. And with people like Wayne, in 2017, the rate of veteran suicide was at least 1.5 times higher than that of non-veterans.
The world we live in today will never know what Tom or Wayne could’ve fully brought to it. However, for those who knew Tom and Wayne, there is a void. And this could be said for anyone who has experienced someone they know committing suicide. Tom’s family misses his zest for life. Tom was always passionate about the world around him. When he wanted to do something, he jumped in with two feet. I miss his dry sense of humor and the enthusiasm for life. Who knows what he would’ve accomplished had he lived past 19. The countless ex-servicemen that Wayne could’ve reached when he became a certified counselor are lost forever. They’ll never be able to learn from Wayne’s experience and expertise. Wayne’s nieces and nephews also lost a caring and loving uncle. For me, I know I miss his humor around the grammatical assessment of the incorrect usage of clichés and idioms. Wayne was great for that.
As for Emma, the method she chose was not as final as she had hoped. After working through the issues and everything that drove her to make the choice she made, she’s now a healthy, functioning adult in society. She knows when to check her emotions, when to stand up for herself and when to ask for help. I know Emma will be okay. That 14-year-old girl is not who she is today. She has a good support system in place, family and friends who care for her, and a steady job that keeps her gainfully employed. Though we’re all on our own path, in this case, Emma’s path is my own. Yes, I am Emma.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, there are many ways to seek help. In Colorado, call Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. Congress recently passed a bill that designates 988 as a nationwide number to call if you are in a suicide or mental health crisis. The number is on target to be operational by mid 2022. Until that happens, nationally you can also call 800-273-8255. Check in with your family and friends and those around you. You never know the path someone may be on and the impact you can make.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/suicide-violence-prevention.htm
National Institute for Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/FCC-Designates-988-as-a-Nationwide-Mental-Health-Crisis-and-Suicide-Prevention-Number
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
The Rate Of Teen Suicide In Colorado Increased By 58% In 3 Years, Making It The Cause Of 1 In 5 Adolescent Deaths. https://www.cpr.org/2019/09/17/the-rate-of-teen-suicide-in-colorado-increased-by-58-percent-in-3-years-making-it-the-cause-of-1-in-5-adolescent-deaths/