I am not an expert on suicide. I am not a doctor, I am not a licensed professional counselor, and I am not a therapist.
But I am a school counselor who has talked to many, many suicidal people - young and old - throughout my life. I have received a great deal of training on the matter and have trained hundreds of people about suicide, the warning signs of suicide and how to help someone who is suicidal.
To put it plainly, suicide is an issue no one wants to talk about but an issue we cannot ignore.
With the death by Robin Williams that authorities are calling suicide, there is no better time to bring it out in the open and talk about it. So many people don't understand suicidal ideations and truly can't understand why people die by suicide.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates are steadily climbing in the United States. With nearly 40,000 people each year dying by suicide in the United States, it is likely that you have been affected by suicide in some way, either directly or indirectly.
I lost a good friend to suicide several years ago. She was a mother of two boys, whom she adored. She was married. She was intelligent, funny and caring. And she was mentally ill. She hid her illness from me for years, much the same way someone who is physically ill might try to hide it from her friends.
While I suspected my friend's mental illness for some time, part of me was still surprised when she confided in me one day. She revealed that she had an eating disorder, bipolar disorder and depression. She diligently sought treatment for her illnesses. However, even while she was being treated, she took her own life.
I think that's when it first truly sunk in for me how mental illness works. It doesn't make sense to people who don’t have a mental health disorder. Even with a high profile death such as Robin Williams, people can't seem to understand why someone who "had it all" would do such a thing.
When my friend died by suicide, I knew that the illness must have been so bad that it overtook her. I know for a fact how much she loved her family and would have done anything for them. She had a relationship with Christ, she had a supportive extended family and she knew she had friends who would help her however possible.
But mental illness is no different than an insidious cancer that eventually takes its toll; it is real and it can kill you, even if you are receiving treatment.
Not everyone who thinks about suicide is mentally ill. Some people who consider it think it’s their only resort to a difficult life situation because they lack real coping skills.
And not everyone who is mentally ill considers suicide. Especially when mental illness is discovered early and treatment is underway and managed, most people have an excellent chance of recovery.
The truth is, suicide is very real and is in our communities. Adults struggle with it and so do our children. It is very easy to ignore the topic because it makes us uncomfortable to talk about. It is important to remember, talking about it will not make someone suicidal. In fact, in most cases, the opposite is true.
The most important thing a person can do if they suspect someone they care about is suicidal is to ask the question, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" This is a very hard question to ask because most people don't really want to know the answer. And if the answer is yes, you might not be sure what you should do for your friend or family member.
If you were to ask a friend if they were considering suicide and the friend said yes, it is very important that you tell someone who can help. This might be a family member, your friend's counselor/therapist, or in some cases the police.
If you believe a friend is suicidal, seek help right away. It cannot wait until tomorrow or until it's a better time.
If you aren't sure who to call, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is available every day at any hour. Trained staff will walk you through how to help someone.
There is no shame in seeking help if you are suicidal. Someone cares about you, and likely many people care for you deeply. Asking for help shows how brave you really are and that you value your life. Reach out to someone close to you or call the hotline and talk to someone who can help. You are worth it.
Michelle Sutherlin is a NewsOK contributor and a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. For more articles about parents and middle school, check out her blog.
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