I start this writing from Frankfurt airport, fixed at a window, facing the fading moon and the first broad beams of sun – lighting, warming. A very beautiful sight indeed of the awesome orchestration of nature’s constant transitioning.
My mind slowly drifts from this wonderful sight into this topic. The moment of the call that no one should receive especially when you are far away from home. The dreadful call for me, many years ago, was from my father. He said with a pause, “Mom has passed away.” For a minute, my heartbeat stopped – no words. Keeping the phone held down, the message sunk in. I knelt down and cried out loud. I was instantly capable of nothing.
A beautiful sensitive person who knew nothing but only to show love and care was no more. She was 47 years old. She wanted to live. I know because she told me that as she aged. She would visit with me and her other daughters frequently. Raise grandkids. She had dreams. Like any woman her age, she had real plans for the future. If only I could have convinced her to hold on and that everything was going to be all right. It was too late.
My mother had been on antidepressants for clinical depression for many years. She overdosed. Suicide. As a budding physician then, guilt overpowered me. What could I have done to prevent it all? A new physically and emotionally exhausting journey began. It was devastating to say the least. My faith faded away. Isolating myself for almost 10 years, I didn’t have the courage to speak about my mother. I avoided conversations and never ever thought that I needed to seek out help.
Mental health was then an uncomfortable topic – let alone suicide. Much of the stigma still remains today. Surviving family members have to push through such conversations to remove the misunderstandings and help create a culture of awareness, scope and resolution.
After a decade, I found the courage to start sharing my story – to start my healing.
Mental health challenges – depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – can affect people of any age, gender, religion or social class. While biological and genetic factors are associated with mental illnesses, suicide itself is a behavior. Suicide is preventable.
Although September is observed as National Suicide Prevention Month, as many as 100 Americans die by suicide each day of every month. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
There is not one defining cause for suicide. For many weeks, individuals can experience stress or health conditions, increased sadness, feel hopelessness, conditions like anxiety and substance abuse. Depression if untreated seems to be a most common and recognizable factor for suicide.
Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention. Sometimes it just means being there for the person and often, it takes only one conversation to save a life.
This moment is about truth and hope and what you can do:
1. Know the warning signs and risk factors. To mention a few, the person has actually talked about self-harm or feeling hopeless, increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawing from social activities, reckless behavior, prolonged stress, recent tragedy, family history of suicide and chronic pain or illness.
2. If you know the person has access to medications, or knives, or guns, be stern about putting them away – not just out of sight, but out of reach.
3. Persist in offering to take them to a mental health professional.
4. Be nonjudgmental but be intentional, indirectly asking if they are having thoughts of suicide.
5. Talk with children and youth and educate them so they can confide any emotional pain or discomfort.
I again heard recently of a young intelligent girl in her teens who lost her life to suicide. The same feelings of guilt engulfed me in asking where are we as a society or as family members continuing to fail in protecting such young lives that otherwise could have soared like eagles?
Take a moment today to say to a friend or family member how much they are appreciated. If you see risk factors or warning signs, don’t hesitate acting with tips like those we’ve discussed here.
And now that the sun is completely out and shining, I will head back to living in the moment and breathe, learning, sharing, knowing my mom’s spirit is with me.
Nazeera Dawood has a Master's in Public Health from the University of North Carolina and a medical degree from Bangalore University, India. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.