It is inspiring to see so many people – celebrities, politicians, everyday folks – speak up today on “Spirit Day” in support of gay teens, anti-bullying and suicide prevention. It breaks my heart to see so many young people taking own their lives because they see no other way out.
I lost my brother to suicide 353 days ago – I cannot believe that it has been nearly a year (an anniversary that I am dreading and will write more about later). While he was not a gay teen but rather a straight 32-year-old Ph.D. candidate with all the promise in the world, I hope that the emerging suicide prevention dialogue encourages people to speak up about depression, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts to remove the stigma and let people who are suffering – from children to the elderly, the lightest skin to the darkest, of any sexual orientation – reach out for help and talk about their challenges.
I guess there is no time like the present to share my story. So here goes – the much abbreviated version anyway.
My brother first attempted suicide in 2006 when he was 29. The call to let me know what happened came from him – and it was a shock not just to me, but to my entire family. Sure, he could be moody and have a temper, but I never saw him as depressed or bipolar or anything like that. He got the medical help (medication, therapy) that he needed. Life went on.
This attempt took place in Ithaca NY, where he was a Ph.D. student at Cornell University. Many of his friends, classmates and professors were aware of what had happened and provided him with a great support group. In addition, he was incredibly open and honest with everyone about how he was feeling, what he was going through etc. – his openness provided me with a sense of relief, and hope that if another problem arose he would reach out to his family and the strong support network, all who would be there to make sure he received the help that he needed.
One of the last times I spoke to my brother was around one of our birthdays in July 2009. When I asked how he was, he said he wasn’t doing well and had been in a “dark place”. We talked about it a bit, and although I was worried about him, I wasn’t alarmed as he had gone back to the doctor, was on some new medication, and was working through this latest challenge – his local support group was aware of what he was going through and trying to help him exit the dark and return to the light.
Unfortunately, he was never able to get out of that dark place, for reasons that only those with mental health issues can truly understand. Apparently he saw no other way out. While I know that deep down he wanted to live, I guess he felt that he just couldn’t continue living with his pain.
Whether or not there is a difference between people considering suicide due to mental health issues and/or due to the fact they don’t think they can continue living as they are (humiliated, heartbroken, struggling with sexual identity, whatever it may be) is irrelevant. What matters is that we need to remove the barriers to an open dialogue about suicide – not only for those who are considering suicide and don’t know how to ask for help, but also for the rest of us who may notice someone is down, sad, not like themselves. We need to reach out and talk about it.
I do not know if anyone could have saved my brother. Sure, maybe he could have been saved on Nov. 1, 2009, but part of me really thinks I would have received that call at some point – be it 6 months from then, 6 years, 20 years, whenever. But I hope that all of us will do everything that we can to save the next potential victim and support that person through medical recovery and beyond.