Monday, August 8, 2011

On Being a Survivor of Suicide

Friday marked the one year anniversary of my mother-in-law's death. Chuk and I drove down to his dad's house Thursday and spent the weekend with my father-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece.

We didn't do too much: ate, played with the baby, the usual. We drove to North Carolina, where she died, and wrote messages to her on balloons and then released them. It was simple, but I thought it was really nice. She liked simple things and wouldn't want too much of a fuss.

My mother-in-law died at the age of 58 because she committed suicide. She hung herself in the spare bedroom and her husband found her body when he woke up in the morning. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 33,000 lives are lost to suicide each year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, the figure is more than one million.

I believe my mother-in-law's death was the result of untreated depression. I also believe she didn't seek treatment for her depression because of the stigma that surrounds it. Depression is a real illness; it's not something you can just "get over". Just as a diabetic's pancreas doesn't produce insulin, some people have hormone imbalances in the brain. Both require medical attention, a long-term health plan, and possibly medication. Yet people make jokes about shrinks and the crazy people who see them. Mental illness is a physical illness. Sick people are not seeking medical attention because of others' perceptions and fear of how they might be labeled.

I urge you, please don't make jokes about psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, antidepressants, mental illness, etc. The flip remark you make creates a culture of stigma. You never know what someone else is going through on the inside. You never know if they are in treatment or considering it and might be put off by just one little thing you say in passing.

We need to remove the shame from mental illness. There was a time when people wouldn't admit to having cancer because it was considered shameful or embarrassing. Now, we rally around cancer patients and survivors, as we should. It should be the same with depression and other mental illnesses. We should be sympathetic and encourage treatment and celebrate recovery.

If you've lost a loved one to suicide, I implore you to be open about it. You have nothing to be ashamed of. People need to know how widespread this epidemic really is. If you have sought treatment for depression, I urge you to be open about that too, in the appropriate circumstances of course. There is nothing to be embarrassed about in saying to a friend "It sounds like you're going through a hard time. I went through something similar and sought treatment from my doctor/psychologist/pastor/social worker and it really helped." You never know, you just might save someone's life.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness. I'm praying for you and your family. We just passed the one year anniversary of my father's death and it's so incredibly tough. The first year really is the hardest. But to have lost her in such a way, that just breaks my heart. I am so sorry for your family's loss. I am touched by the way you remembered her though - I wish I had done something similar for my dad.


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