Have you ever felt so overwhelmed, sad, or hopeless that you considered ending your life?
This is a question I ask to almost every new client that comes in my doors.
You might be surprised who says, “yes”.
Prominent community members, business owners, CEOs, healthcare providers, educators, honor roll students, dedicated parents, spiritual leaders, elementary aged children, elite athletes, yoga masters, and politicians are all among the many individuals who were brave enough to tell me that yes, they have contemplated suicide.
The reasons are varied. Wanting to escape, not seeing a way out, exhaustion, burnout, unbearable physical or emotional pain, hopelessness, perceived failure, powerlessness, releasing others from a perceived burden, feeling worthless, or to escape ridicule or bullying are just some possibilities.
We live in a society where we often see one aspect of a person. You might call it a mask, a façade, or social expectations, but behind closed doors that person may be facing an entirely different reality than what might be perceived.
We also live in a society that would come running if I were to break my arm and sign my cast, but if I were to disclose depression or suicidal thoughts, people might judge or run the other way. For many of us, talking about our emotions and feelings may feel uncomfortable or even foreign. Some of us may have been taught to suppress emotions, keep our heads down, work hard, and don’t be a problem. Sound familiar? Strangely and perhaps sadly, this mindset is reminiscent to our society’s version of success. But, as I like to ask my stoic, hard-working clients, how’s that working for you? Furthermore, with suicide rates and depression rates on the rise, how’s that working for us- as a society, community, family?
We have all experienced our share of emotional pain and struggle. Many of us have a personal story about suicide whether it is regarding ourselves or somebody else. Suicide can have profound impacts on communities. In the small towns of Silverton and Sisters where I practice, the impact of tragedy can feel more intense, palpable, and immediate. The shroud of grief can be heavy. Most of the time, attempting to sweep such things under the rug only perpetuates a sense of isolation and shame.
The misguided notion that suicide is somehow selfish or the easy way out does us no favors and compounds shame and silence. Most often it is rather the point that in desperation, people are overcome by the long, hard struggle of staying alive- many have fought hard time after time and may ultimately feel defeated. They did not simply give up.
Not everyone who contemplates or completes suicide has a mental illness per se. While mental illness can contribute, rejection, financial woes, impending crises, loss, and/or relationship problems can all be driving factors as well.
Like many small towns, Sisters and Silverton are charming and somewhat idyllic communities, but certainly both have their emotional layers and undercurrents. People are struggling and too often they are among those you least suspect. We all compartmentalize at times- especially in our go-go-go society, which often gives us little time to grieve, process, and feel, but a community’s social decorum, culture, and pressures can sometimes leave little room for authenticity and acceptance.
Suicide rates are up 30 percent across the nation since 1999. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Oregonians age 10-24. So, we must start asking tough questions, having tough conversations, and allowing space for personal stories to be shared. Talking about suicide and our emotional well-being needs to take place beyond the walls of a counseling office. It is a topic that ought to be talked about in our places of worship, clubs, schools, workplaces, and within the walls of our home. Let’s come together, support one another, strategize, and work towards prevention. We cannot afford to be silent.
“The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic, or hospital.”
Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP-BC, Owner, She Soars Psychiatry, LLC
Sisters & Silverton, Oregon, www.shesoarspsych.com