I posted a photo of me holding my nephew the other day, and a friend commented that he looked like my brother, John.
John died nearly 11 years ago, in October 2009, by suicide. I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, as the anniversary of his death approaches.
It’s also September, and September is Suicide Prevention Month. September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.
I’ve been volunteering in suicide prevention and advocacy for the past 2 years. I believe that by telling the story of John’s life and his struggle with bipolar depression, combined with the story of my own struggle with depression and anxiety and the impact John’s suicide has had on my life, I can encourage others who are struggling to tell someone and find help.
I think that it’s working. Suicide, and mental health, are uncomfortable words and topics. Almost every time I use these words, a conversation ensues, mainly because people feel empowered to use the word suicide. After I hosted a panel discussion about suicide prevention and awareness in my community, a friend shared, “I suspected that my friend was thinking of suicide, so I asked her, and she said yes. I had never pointedly asked her that question, are you thinking of suicide, before. Now, she’s getting treatment.”
And yet, as I share this, the work for this September, in the year 2020, feels overwhelming.
As a community – locally, nationally, and worldwide – we have faced a lot of tragedy. People have lost their jobs, businesses have closed, and hundreds of thousands of people have died from a global pandemic. We’ve experienced most of these tragedies without the comfort of others, away from the churches, community centers, schools, and funeral homes where we used to gather to mourn. Together.
In the midst of the pandemic, there is a forthcoming Presidential Election, and the United States grows increasing politically divided. There is also national attention, long overdue, being cast on racial injustice, and driven in particular by recent deaths in the black community at the hands of some police officers.
This loss, isolation, and conflict impacts our mental health. Badly.
It’s difficult not to experience anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, and hopelessness. I have experienced each of these emotions every week, and often for days in a row, during the pandemic and as Election Day 2020 nears.
Thus, I’ve been thinking that Suicide Prevention Month this year feels overwhelming because it feels as if there are too many people to save. Too many people who are contemplating suicide for the first time in their lives, and too many individuals on the spectrum of suicidal ideation, both due to tragedy.
While I recognize that one person, or one group of people, cannot save everyone, and also that not everyone contemplating suicide and suffering from suicidal ideation can be saved, I also recognize that if each of us helps one person, and that person helps someone else, many people can find the hope that inspires them to seek support for their mental health.
But if we are helping others, we must also help ourselves.
Robin Gupta shared in a recent blog post that when you find gratitude and peace within yourself, you’ll be in a better place to help others in the face of tragedy.
It’s easy to lose sight of our own mental health during the pandemic, and before we realize it, those 5 emotions that I described begin to affect how we’re managing our time, and can impact if and how we’re helping others.
This Suicide Prevention Month, in honor of my brother John, I’m prioritizing my own mental health. What does this mean? For me, this means making a commitment to meet regularly with my therapist. This means spending more time outside. This means giving thanks for my health, and for my family and friends’ health. This means doing more yoga, which helps me stay present and has become more of a mental exercise than a physical one.
For more ideas on mental wellness, check out this blog post from NAMI: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2018/How-Easy-it-is-to-Neglect-Your-Mental-Health
To become involved in suicide prevention and advocacy, visit: https://www.aas365.org/
For the latest statistics on suicide, visit: https://suicidology.org/facts-and-statistics/.