We would be foolish to ignore the ever-increasing rates of suicide that have become so prevalent in our society. As of today, there is an estimated average of 121 suicides per day; that averages out to approximately 5 per hour. Every hour, there are five people who no longer see a point to their life, and make a choice to end it. For every successful suicide, 25 people attempt. That means that every day, 3,025 people try to take their own lives. That’s more than three times the population of my home town. These are startling statistics- that’s no secret- however there is a side of suicide many don’t know. A side that affects those of us left behind after someone we love makes this decision. The side effects of someone else’s suicide.
Many who know me also know that I lost my older brother to suicide in June of 2009. He was 17 years old when he made the choice to end his life by using a shot gun. That’s the thing we aren’t told about suicide; more often than not, it is extremely graphic and horrific. Over half of all successful suicides are carried out by a firearm. Experiencing the loss of someone by suicide changes you in ways no other cause of death does. When someone you love chooses to die, you are never the same. From what I have seen, read, heard, and experienced, I have discovered that there are certain things we all seem to experience after losing someone in such a brutal way.
First of all, you feel a deep sorrow for anyone who chooses to take their own life. Just hearing about a complete stranger committing suicide can draw a tear to your eye, because you feel for them. You wish you could go back in time and stop them just to spare them from such a dark fate. You may have never met them, but your heart still aches for them. You grieve the loss of someone you don’t really know without even understanding why, because the truth is, everyone who is lost to suicide becomes a small part of you.
You also feel an unfathomable connection with anyone who has lost someone to suicide. You know how much it hurts, how much the guilt weighs on you, how much you scrutinize every little thing you could have done differently, and you would give anything to keep another person from ever feeling that way. You understand that losing someone to suicide is so different than losing someone any other way. You understand the pain it brings in a way other people can’t. You empathize with people going through this loss, because you’ve been there. Again, even when it’s people you’ve never met, you feel for them. You sympathize their pain, and wish you could take it from them, because you understand the way it destroys people. You instantly become connected with the friends and families of people who fell victim to their own minds.
You feel a small prick of pain whenever someone utters the words, “I’d rather die,” or “I’m going to kill myself if I get another assignment” or even when they mimic blowing their head off when something annoys them. People say and do things like this in passing all the time, never thinking anything of it, but it hits you every single time. Many people don’t even notice the reaction you have, but you feel it. You don’t understand how people can joke about something so awful, especially when they don’t understand how painful it is to lose someone to suicide.
You take every threat of suicide seriously. You worry relentlessly about people who show the signs that you are now hyper-aware of, and you can’t just ignore what other people deem to be idle threats. You instantly are called to action, and will do whatever you can to prevent it; to spare another person from going through with it. You take these things more seriously than the people around you, because you have witnessed the aftermath and would do anything to stop it from happening to another. If you’re like me, you carry a suicide prevention card in your wallet just in case you find someone who needs it, but also to remind yourself that help is still out there for those who seek it.
You suddenly find yourself with an intense drive to educate yourself on the topic and spread awareness. Ironically, you learn all the warning signs and the best resources after it happens to you. You learn the statistics and the stories and you have an internal need to spread this knowledge to others to try and help prevent it from happening again. You immerse yourself into the topic of suicide and will enlighten anyone who listens. You make it your mission to end the shame that surrounds it and try to gently force people to talk about it. Because deep down you know the only way to prevent it is to stop pretending it doesn’t exist and talk about it.
Suicide is never easy to talk about, but it NEEDS to be talked about. Ignoring it will not make it go away; we need to start opening up the conversation with our kids, our parents, our friends- everyone. Nothing will ever change if we keep shoving it into the background and pretending it’s not an issue. Suicide is a prevalent issue that is affecting thousands of people daily; never in history has it been more relevant. If we continue to disregard it, it will only get worse. It’s time to take it seriously, and not just after you lose someone. Because I can tell you from experience that you never move on after a suicide. You never stop feeling guilty. You never put it behind you. You never go back to being who you were.
Suicide has side effects that alter the people who are left behind. Those who lose someone close to them to suicide are forever changed in ways we don’t expect. I lost my brother eight and a half years ago, and it still affects me. This post was still hard to write, because the emotions are still so raw, and I know it is far from my best writing, but it’s also something that weighs on me. There are so many people who do not understand the side effects of suicide; so many who don’t understand suicide at all. As I said above, people who lose someone this way have a need to educate others in hopes of raising awareness and encouraging others to take preventative measures- that’s why I chose to write this post. A suicide changed me; I hope it doesn’t change you too.
*Statistics listed are from The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention website at afsp.org