Two weeks ago we received a call that shook me to the core. Someone we knew had died by suicide. I grew up and was friends with her husband. She was a wife and a mother. She was a business person. In the weeks since a myriad of emotions have flooded my mind. It has made me think because of my own struggles with mental health. It has made me think of the many people I have met through my work in various areas regarding mental health and suicide. It has made me wonder how we as society can make a bigger difference for so many people that struggle. How can we create more awareness?
The funeral was sad particularly in light of the circumstances. But strangely enough I came away from this one with different feelings than I normally do. Dare I say it encouraged me? Too often people are loathe to discuss suicide. Often times the cause of death is glossed over, perhaps in some attempt to run away from the tragedy. In this case there was none of that. The family was open about what happened. Others that spoke challenged us to be aware of mental health and the many that deal with this insidious illness. We were reminded of the best way to be a support to the family as they deal with the loss of a loved one.
During the service one of her kids mentioned how in the few short days since her passing they, as a family, had learnt a lot about suicide. What caught my attention was when he suggested that had his mother suffered and ultimately died because of cancer we would be talking about her courageous fight. We would talk about how brave she had been. He wanted everyone to know that his mother had fought a courageous battle. She had been brave. Her fight had been with a mental health illness not a physical illness.
That insight provided me with encouragement. In spite of awareness campaigns regarding mental health illnesses there remains a stigma. People that suffer from depression, PTSD, anxiety, Schizophrenia and others often times try to keep it a secret. We put on a mask hoping no one will know. We feel shame. And because of that we often do not seek the help we need. We have to put aside the stigma. And for the people who suffer from mental health illnesses we have to understand that it is a fight. It takes courage. And when we come to that realization we can take off our mask and show the folks around us that we have the courage and we need their support.
The family was also very clear that this death by suicide was not a selfish act. As awareness grows there is a better understanding of mental health and suicide. Again I was encouraged with the family’s approach. I have long been frustrated when suicide is referred to as a selfish act. It seems to me that calling it a selfish act is judgemental and takes away from a better understanding of the depths of despair many people feel. We should never confuse ending our pain with ending our life. I would go on to suggest that calling suicide a selfish act shows an ignorance of mental health.
This death was a tragedy beyond comprehension. It was a reminder for me to be aware of my own struggles and find better ways to deal with them. It was a reminder that there are many out there that face daily battles with their mental health. It was a reminder that more needs to be done. It was a reminder to seek understanding in spite of our own thoughts or beliefs. It is a challenge to all of us to be a support. A support to those who continue the courageous fight. A support to those who have lost a loved one to mental health. Make it a good one.