JC Schildbach, LMHC
Just before I sat down to write this, around 8 p.m. my time, I lit some candles and placed them in the windows of my home–as was requested by the organizers of World Suicide Prevention Day–a small gesture that maybe nobody will notice–but a sign of solidarity nonetheless.
One might ask, ‘Solidarity with whom?’
With those who have died by suicide?
With those who have lived through a suicide attempt?
With those who have been impacted by the suicide of an important person in their lives?
How about just plain everybody?
None of us are immune to suicide, or the impacts of suicide.
A great many of us like to believe we’re immune.
But our mental health is not made up of absolutes. It is not a simple either/or option: mentally healthy or mentally ill.
Suicidality itself exists on a scale of ‘definitely not going to happen today’ to ‘working on it right now.’
And perhaps the more we think we’re immune to issues with our mental health, the more we fail to recognize when we might be tilting toward trouble.
Take a big enough hit to your self image–loss of your job, loss of a spouse or signficant other; maybe add on a string of other bad occurrences–financial troubles, illness, the death of a loved one; mix in a few too many drinks and easy access to means, and who knows what might happen?
More than half of the 40,000+ deaths by suicide in the United States each year involve a gun. How many of those do you suppose were the result of, say, long-term depression, versus a fairly quick unravelling of the deceased’s sense of self, and a lack of knowledge about how to identify and utilize available support systems? How many of those were a booze-fueled ‘screw it’ to a really bad month, or week, or day?
Of course, when one believes one is immune to such problems, when those problems arise, one will be that much less likely to seek out help.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Many people who die by suicide have been struggling with mental illness for the bulk of their lives. Many of them have made multiple attempts before they finally die by suicide.
But there are also plenty who die by suicide because they are overwhelmed by circumstances, and have no real idea what to do. They have never given thought to what to do, or who to turn to. They do not want others to think of them negatively–perhaps the same way they have thought of others in similar circumstances.
So we need to recognize that we’re all travelling on the same continuum, that we’re all forever in flux, rather than believing we are in two separate camps that will forever remain apart: the mentally healthy and the mentally ill. Otherwise, we potentially block ourselves off from the need for compassion. It’s much easier to look away when we can say, “Not me.”
So maybe those candles will go unnoticed, or maybe not.
And at least they’re flickering away against the darkness of “Not me.”