A moving personal account
I feel as though some mental health topics, namely suicide, despite the world being more open to discussions of mental health now than ever, are still taboo. Sure, we can recite statistics and even policy without fear, but as soon as the conversation creeps closer, and turns from the generic to the intimate, it hesitates and loses confidence. A shame, considering suicide and its facets are nothing if not personal. In light of this, I’ve decided to write about what I’ve learned from a few times and people in my life where the topic was especially relevant.
The first time suicide had become a palpable concept to me was when I learned that a close family friend had attempted and was hospitilized. I was much younger, and while I was aware of the gravity of the situation, I was not aware of the total, consuming impact an attempt has on a family. I saw what I had previously assumed to be an individual endeavor push siblings, parents, and grandparents to extreme levels of stress. I witnessed parents, that were normally strong and laid back, become desperate and take turns staying up within earshot of their child’s bedroom at night, and I saw someone who had already endured so much begin the painfully slow, nonlinear recovery process.
The topic of suicide would not become personal to me again for sometime, until I found out in high school that one of my few friends had ODed and thankfully survived. Finding out about something like that is obviously difficult, but what made the news especially hard for me to take in was that it was not entirely unexpected. I knew my friend had been struggling with both substance abuse and mental health for some time, but up to that point he hadn’t brought it up to me much, and I hadn’t taken much initiative to see if I could help. This was something that pushed me to show those I am close to that I have a real, vested interest in their well-being. Humans make the best crutches, and in my experience it is worth it to have uncomfortable conversations that build reciprocal and close relationships. Going beyond the arbitrary ‘How are you?’ is something that becomes both easier and more rewarding with time. Many times I’ve found that having that little bit of courage to ask my friends one more question has led to productive conversations lasting for hours.
Before I transferred into Fordham, my old university was experiencing significant mental health problems, with multiple students having taken their lives in the short time I was there. One night, about halfway through the semester, I went to a party at a sports house. There were lots of people there, including one girl with a bubbly personality and an infectious, ear-to-ear smile. There were some people alone at the party; she was not one of them, instead being surrounded by a clique of other athletes, her teammates. I remember one friend complimented her positivity and another asked her for advice. I barely knew her, but it stung when I got the email from public safety that she had commited suicide just a couple days later. There were zero signs at the party, and I would later learn that her same group of friends didn’t have any clues either. This emphasized to me the extent to which our feelings are individual experiences. It’s so incredibly easy to discount the possibility of somebody being anything but good, especially when they have something you don’t, but oftentimes people are their own harshest critics over their unhappiness.
I am fortunate in that I have never gotten to a point where I have even seriously considered attempting, but like many young people these days, I have definitely experienced pretty significant depression, which at times has worried my mother. I usually put forth an effort to keep people in my family from thinking I am not doing fine, but it doesn’t always work. I remember one time, while driving around my hometown during break with my mom, her eyes started to tear up and she began telling me what she thought happened after somebody takes their own life. She said something to the effect of how after they do it, they look back down on themselves confused and regretful. She attempted to start this conversation organically, making as if she was merely offering a commentary on a news story that day, but I quickly realized things were wrong. The vibe was very heavy, and my mom is not a particularly religious person. It disappointed me to see that my mental health was weighing on hers, causing her stress and panic. Having better communication with her and the rest of my family about mental health is something that I need to continue working on, to prevent situations like these where they speculate and assume the worst.
When we talk about suicide, it has to be more than just in the context of a tragic event. We have to talk about ideation, depression, mental health, and we should try to find the courage to share personal stories with those we trust. Suicide is a very human topic, it has become one of the leading causes of death for young people across the globe, and should be addressed beyond numerical values.