Updated: Sep 23, 2020
I lost my mother to suicide when I was 13. As a child, I did not quite understand the drivers of the act, the alcohol, the tears, or the magnanimity of what suicide truly meant.
When I look back today, there are so many memories that come rushing back. I can feel the burning sensation in my eyes and the lump in my throat, every-time I look back to those moments. It gets harder for me to breathe or even think straight for a moment. I feel a surge of panic and urgency, almost hoping to stop my mother from taking her life.
After two years of research in suicide, running support groups, and being a trained suicide first aider, I realize that suicide isn’t how we think or like to call it “a decision taken in the heat of the moment”. I realized that for every person who has died by suicide, it has always been a shock for the family and friends. Why? How can we be the closest person to our loved ones overlook or are unable to see those small signs and the call for help?
Are we too afraid to accept and acknowledge them? Is that the reason we end up completely ignoring those signs and the call for help? Are we blocking it out or labeling it as attention-seeking so we don’t have to really deal with it?
The bottom line is that we are terrified of the consequences of accepting that someone could think of taking their life. I think we are even more frightened that we don’t know how to help.
My mother drowned her distress in alcohol. And said she was going to die by taking her life, once every few months. My family thought my mom was just trying to seek attention. “She would never do something like this” or “this isn’t your mother’s personality. Being an 8-year-old kid, I remember always asking myself what that really might be? What is a personality and are there types of personalities who are prone to suicide?
The truth – anyone can take their life. Nobody is immune to thoughts of suicide. Yet Suicide is the most preventable death.
I hear words like you are not mentally strong if you think about suicide. These are myths and add to the stigma which further silences people from seeking the help they require. The silence is the real killer.
I have completed 16 interventions.
16 people who have either attempted or had thoughts of suicide or self-harmed. The hopelessness, the distress, the helplessness is always excruciating. “Nobody understands.” “They think I am a burden.” “They don’t listen to me anymore.” “They don’t understand my pain.” These are the most used lines in a life-saving conversation.
Interventions can take hours. But at the end of each, I have heard “thank you for listening. Thank you for not judging me. Thank you for believing in my pain. My family does not understand what I am going through.” We then work through a safety plan, help understand how to stay safe, connect them to a mental health practitioner, and move on to the next person at risk.
My training taught me to see the signs of distress and not to judge, but to try to understand the pain. To listen with compassion and identify any glimmer of hope that could keep the person safe for now.
I met many mental health professionals to develop a resource bank of people that can support the care of our loved ones. I hand the family the list and ask them to choose the one most preferred to the family.
I still hear, “this is not her.” “She would never do this.” “People who say they will die by suicide don’t do it.” “it’s just attention, she is bored.” The list of myths and defenses rise up high. Many times, I just sit and hear them out too. I watch as they create a bubble of fear around them, an armor they believe will protect them and their loved ones.
The only thing that protects a loved one is a caring conversation. A lifesaving conversation. A talk devoid of judgment, advise biases and underlying attitudes that make it unsafe for someone to share.
It takes someone who wants to make a difference to truly have that kind of conversation.