In 2012, three weeks after my 22nd birthday, I tried to kill myself.
At the time, I felt desperate and entirely alone. I had failed out of college and given up on my dream to pursue music professionally. I moved back to Charlotte and continued to struggle through community college classes. I worked part time in a mind-numbing receptionist position. I had no close friends. Each new day filled me with sadness and dread. I could not imagine a reality in which things might ever improve, and I wanted out. I was certain no one would miss me.
Fortunately for me that night, a friend took me to the hospital and I survived.
Despite doing everything the medical staff recommended, I still wanted to die after I was discharged. I tried months of counseling, medication, and group therapy to no avail. Ultimately, it was finding new meaning and purpose in life that kept me going. It was connecting with other survivors who had been through similar experiences. It was a shift to a new career path in social work. Most importantly, it was the love and support I received from family, friends, teachers, and coworkers.
“Suicide prevention is everyone’s business” is the slogan of the American Association of Suicidology. That means that each of us – not just trained professionals – can support someone during a suicidal crisis. Each of us can act in seemingly small, but powerful ways.
Writer and activist Kevin Hines miraculously survived a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. He shares that before his suicide attempt, even though he was very obviously in emotional distress, not a single person on the crowded bridge stopped to ask what was wrong. In fact, the only person who stopped him was a tourist who asked if Kevin would take a picture of her group of friends.
As a community, we can do better! Even if it makes us uncomfortable, the most impactful thing we can do in those harrowing moments is simply sit and be with a person until the pain passes. We can nonjudgmentally show that person love and concern. By simply holding space for people to share openly about their struggles, we can create a society that values empathy, love, and shared experience over individualism and shame. We can prevent suicide.
This year for National Suicide Prevention Week (September 5-10), consider getting involved locally.
- Sign up to participate in the Charlotte Out of the Darkness Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Enroll in suicide prevention training, or organize a Coffee and Conversation event for your workplace or community group though Mental Health America Central Carolinas to break the stigma associated with mental health challenges
- Stop by Promise Resource Network, a mental health organization run entirely by individuals who have “been there”, and check out their wonderful (and free) support programs
Today, I’m living a life I never dreamed was possible and I feel grateful each day that I’m still alive. But I would be remiss not to mention that even I, a mental health professional with a master’s degree, still sometimes struggle with suicidal thoughts and depressed moods. None of us have all the answers, even though we’d like others to think we do. The decision to continue living despite immense despair rather than giving in to death by suicide is one of humanity’s oldest philosophical questions. Suffering in this way hurts, for sure, but it’s part of the human experience. And in that we can trust that none of us are entirely alone.
Knowing that we all go through those times doesn’t take away the hopelessness and despair. But sharing it with another person lessens the burden tremendously. So this year, I am sharing this part of my past. I challenge you to do the same. Talk about your insecurities, your shame and fear. Your dark nights of the soul. And listen to those who share these parts of themselves with an open heart. You never know – it might save a life.
You are not alone. If you are feeling suicidal, please talk to someone. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. In Mecklenburg County, you can also call the Mecklenburg County Crisis Hotline at 704-566-3410.