September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The point I want to make is simple and if you want to skip to the end, here it is: please stay. I say this from the bottom of my heart to each and every person in this community. I say this knowing fully that staying alive means that you may continue to suffer. It’s a big “ask,” so let me explain.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 34. Death by suicide claims more lives than murder and natural disasters combined. Suicide is not a rare, isolated event. It’s real and permanent, leaving those left behind in agony.
In my professional and personal life, I’ve stood beside those who couldn’t see beyond their own despair. Men, who take their own lives at almost four times the rate of women, may have been considering suicide because it’s better to be dead than “weak.” I have crossed paths with young adults who felt that they were completely alone in the world, and who could not bear the thought of living on.
Suicide prevention is not an academic exercise for me, nor, I’m pretty sure, for any of my staff who work alongside me at Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare. We care about this topic because we’ve looked deep into the face of this epidemic and long for a way to make it stop.
For family members and loved ones, suicide is devastating. For them, the loss is plagued by stigma, guilt and the horrible onslaught of “what could I have done differently.”
Suicide leaves a horrible wake in its path, shaking the foundation for all of us. Suicide is like a weed with many shoots that wraps itself around all of us, casting doubt on hope and our sense of future. It frays our social fabric and brings into question the compact each of us has with society. As a community, we agree to build a future together, knowingly or not. We agree to hope for our children and our collective future. To paraphrase Jennifer Michael Hecht from her book “Stay: A history of suicide and the arguments against it:” Either the universe is a cold dead place with solitary sentient beings, or we are all alive together, committed to persevere.
I do not dismiss the sense of despair that can feel completely disproportionate to the life a person lives, creating guilt for not being able to cope, on top of being lonely and miserable. The despair people feel is legitimate. At Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, we see people every day who suffer with mental illness, or addiction, or both, to an extent that can be incomprehensible. If you are one of them, still, I ask you to stay.
If you are contemplating suicide because you don’t want to be a burden to someone else, contemplate this: the burden of staying is infinitely smaller to those you care about. Your family and friends will drown in regrets.
To those of you who have at some point contemplated suicide — and we are legion! — yet decided to live, I am forever grateful. You chose to honor your future self, to give the future you a chance at joy. You chose to stay, if only for your family, or your religion, or whatever reason was compelling to you. Let’s face it. We all suffer, some more than others, but suffering is the human condition.
It takes heroic courage to stay. In the face of despair, this courage demands our respect. In my work, I am honored to bear witness to this courage. Those who live are silent, extraordinary heroes and they deserve not only our gratitude, but our deep admiration. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please tell someone. We are here, as are others. The suicide lifeline at Lines for Life is 1-800-273-8255 and for youth it’s 1-877-968-8491. Our immediate access number is (503) 325-5724.
Amy Baker is the executive director of Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek help.
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings