This post is part of a Suicide Prevention Month blog series. Read the other blogs here.
Mental illness and suicidality do not exempt us from being loved, cared for, or valued. I say this just as much for those of us who struggle as I do for everyone else. It’s a truth that it took me a long time to accept, and now on my worst days, I still struggle to affirm.
Since 90 percent of people who die by suicide struggle with a mental illness—diagnosed or not—it’s important for us to sit for a moment with the complexities of the issue. To parse out the mixed messages, broken connections, and layered emotions.
Anytime we think of suicidality as a simple, linear equation, we obscure the reality of what it means for the brain to steadily wear down the resolve to survive.
The absolute truth is that most of us who struggle with mental illness and suicidality are intelligent, talented, thoughtful, and loving. We are often productive and innovative contributors to this world. Everyone’s lives deserve to be protected. We should feel safe.
Yet, many of us feel unmoored, and that sense of disconnection gives birth to lies. We don’t feel we belong anywhere. Our existence is a burden; the people who love us would be better off without us.
These lies creep into the place within ourselves where the truth lives and try to run the truth out of its home. We often feed the lies by refusing to seek or participate in treatment, withdrawing from our world, and playing a mental tape full of hurtful messages about our unworthiness, our ugliness, our hopelessness.
In reality, there is a complex psychological reaction going on in the brains of those of us who contemplate suicide.
The absolute truth and pernicious lies battle each other fiercely. They make us tired. They wear down our resolve. They emit byproducts in the form of tears, angry outbursts, and persistent, bone crushing fatigue as well as strength, resolve, and longing for our lives “before all this.”
We are at odds with our most dangerous, secret, invisible enemy: ourselves.
When the lies win out, the products are grief, sadness, pain, and immeasurable loss in the present and future.
When the truth wins out, the products are strength, hope, joy, love, compassion, and immeasurable gain for the individual, community, and world.
Every time I hear of another student who has taken their own life, I mourn the art, ideas, and changes they would have made. I feel acutely the lack of influence they will have on my future and on our world.
Unfortunately, I rarely get to hear the stories of students who have come back from the edge. Those who have survived. I want to feel the profound gratefulness that comes with recognizing how their survival has and will continue to make my life, our world better. I want to hear their stories.
We need to muster our courage to raise the banner of truth—to send reinforcements into the invisible, yet very real battle.
There are no minimum requirements for telling our stories. They all matter. They all have the potential to change hearts. Their telling represents courage, strength, health and a willingness to be seen instead of blending into the background.
This month you’ll read the stories of many who have refused to just blend in. They are standing up. They are speaking their truths. They are doing the work of suicide prevention. And they are doing it with vibrancy and vitality.
Suicide prevention is daily work. It’s personal work. It’s community work. It’s unpopular work. Suicide prevention is important, honest, life-saving work.
Doing it makes us ordinary superheroes. Doing it makes us Stigmafighters.