Suicide: The Journey to Understand and the Challenge to End

There were lots of other blog topics that could have been covered this month, but given the news of the 3rd NCAA student athlete suicide and now the death ‘due to mental health’ of Naomi Judd, we would be remiss to not discuss mental health and suicide.  

Over the course of my career prior to LifeTutors, I worked in higher education in numours roles, with my last as a Dean of Students for 15 years. I had the profound pleasure of working with students through some of their most challenging moments, their happiest moments and sometimes their saddest moments. I considered my work a true privilege. In doing such work, it was heartbreaking when we lost a student in any capacity…but there was something even more painful about losing a student to suicide.  Here they are, these amazing young adults, living/learning on campus, surrounded by resources and people that ‘care’ but in that moment –  that dark and often painful moment – they felt that ending their life was the only decision they could make.  Please know, I sit here with no judgment, as that moment is one that is riddled with should haves, could haves, would haves (for us) but none of us truly know that moment unless we have been there in their head and heart. Even if we have found ourselves in that moment ourselves, no two people are the same.

What I do know is that in the ending of their life, other lives are shattered. As the person who was often the first point of contact for the deceased student’s family – their lives are devastated and never, ever the same. Parents are heartbroken. Friends are distraught. Siblings, often feeling abandoned, now carry a weight that may be more than they can handle.  A campus grieving. And Us…wondering why…just, why?  After all these years 0 having lost students, friends, and even family to the thief called suicide, there is no answer that heals my head and heart. None. 

The folks we lose are loved. They have friends (even when they think they don’t). They are funny…talented…caring, ..hard working…bright…enigmatic…a friend to all….brilliant…. Artistic…. So many wonderful words… so many wonderful qualities… in so many wonderful people…. Yet they are gone. Nothing will bring them back and nothing will fill that void.  IT is an absence felt forever. An empty chair ever present at our table.

So what can we do? We can love. We can radically love people.  Let’s start there. Suicide is the leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults. The suicide rate for middle and high schoolers has increased exponentially – often due to bullying…and far too often our LGBTQ kids.  Of LGBTQ youth, over 40 percent have considered suicide. Radical love. True unconditional love – it can save lives.

Now let’s talk about expectations – our own and our family’s. Perfectionism and feelings of not being good enough are often cited by those struggling with anxiety and depression, which for some can lead to suicidal ideation and attempts. We as parents try our best, but even I know I have placed (consciously and unconsciously) unrealistic expectations on my kiddo.  I found out recently that she played her entire last season of basketball a few years ago miserably because she was afraid to tell me she didnt want to play anymore – and that I would be mad. My heart broke. It is not our place as parents to live out our hopes and dreams through our children – even when we don’t think we are – let’s check that…maybe they don’t want to play ball, or be a lawyer, or go to college.  We spend a lot of time as parents and family celebrating the successes of our kids – but how do we respond to their difficulties, challenges? Even failures? What kind of message have we sent? Are we a safe place for them to land when things get hard or don’t work out?  It’s okay to wonder – and think…and maybe even adjust as parents – heck, we can even ask out kids…and some of us may need to apologize and make changes…and that’s okay too.

I think of these three young, amazing athletes who we have lost over the past few weeks, and how the NCAA is having to really look at mental health and the student athlete experience and I am over here yelling IT STARTS WAY BEFORE THAT!!!!  We need to be making sure that K12 learning MUST include socio-emotional health being a priority as well.  Most schools do not have enough counselors, social working or foks able to truly keep a finger on the pulse of student mental health and ensure that resources are connected with those that need.  WHat we do know is that most folks who need an ear to listen are not talking.  Schools must do better by educating on mental health and normalizing resources and seeking out help. 

We then need to talk about attitude. Yes. Attitude. If I hear one more so called adult  say ‘what the hell does this generation have to be so anxious, depressed or suicidal about’ I’m probably going to prison….. My answer is *motions at virtually everything*.  Ummm…this has been a hell of a couple of years…decades..yeah…wanna argue about that?  Seriously, there is so much going on in our city, county, state, region, country, world – and we are constantly bombarded with media feeding our eyes, ears and brains, many of us are often spinning but have just gotten used to the ride.  Research has shown that brain chemistry is real with regards to mental health – it has shown generational trauma effects your DNA – medicine is a science and an art with regards to treatment and no two bodies are the same.  

So even when you are doing everything right, seeking out therapy, taking your meds – you can still be spinning and struggling…. 

Can you imagine the pain? The frustration? The angst? The self-blame? Wondering what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be like everyone else? Feeling hopeless…like nothing is working…wondering if your family and friends will be upset that you’re still struggling? Will they think you are a failure? Will they be mad?

And as I sit here and type this blog, I know the answer is NO….you are loved…it’s okay….don’t think like that….it will be okay. You are loved and valued….

But I can also recall the night my panic attack sent me to the hospital….well, I remember most of it. And I am tearing up because I can remember the next day being so upset, not wanting folks to be mad, being upset that I scared folks, trying to figure out what I did wrong. Wondering why I couldn’t just be like everyone else. I mean, I mean, I took my meds, and look what happened – I am still  broken. 

But you know what?

We are all broken….in some way shape or form, And it is okay. Asking for help is okay. Embracing your broken pieces and finding healthy, positive things to help mend each crack is okay. Seeking out therapy is okay. Taking meds is okay. Practicing holistic medicine is okay. Spending some time in a residential program is okay. Having a life coach is okay. Not getting an A is okay. Not finishing first is okay. Leaving a team is okay. Changing a major is okay. Leaving college is okay. Working after high school is okay. A gap year is okay. Skipping a family vacation is okay. Spending a holiday alone is okay.. Demanding better healthcare is okay. Seeking more accessible resources is okay. Talking about mental health is okay. Talking about suicidal ideation is okay.. YOU ARE GOING TO BE OKAY.

Talking about suicide does not cause suicide.

But not talking about suicide does.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor at 741741. If you are LGBTQ and would like to talk to someone openly affirming, you can call The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text 678678 to speak with a counselor. You are never alone.

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