It’s Monday night and there are just a few hours left in World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve debated all day whether to say anything, and by this evening Mark looked at me and said “You know you need to write this out. Go blog.”
So, I am.
I dislike Suicide Prevention Day.
It will be 6 years ago this month that my father lost his life to suicide. It wasn’t a surprise to any who knew him. He was suicidal for much of my growing up. His mental illness was severe and we tried for years to help him in every way we knew. But, one fall day, in the midst of my sister’s high school studies, my brother’s mission trip, and my wedding planning, he died.
The billboards read “Suicide is preventable. Its causes are treatable.”
I spent a lot of time growing up feeling as though it was my responsibility to protect my father from himself. I even had a help-line counselor tell me it was my job to keep my father safe when he was having a crisis one evening while my mother was out of town. If suicide is preventable, then it follows that there was more I could have done to prevent it.
People need to know that mental illness is treatable (note: treatable does not always mean curable). They need to know what options for treatment are available and how to access those. We need to increase awareness of the barriers to treatment and work to knock those down. We need to bring awareness to suicide, that it’s happening even among our young children. We need to teach people the signs that a loved one is feeling suicidal and how to approach them. We need to let those who are considering ending their lives know there are people to talk to 24/7. To that end, a Suicide or Mental Illness Awareness Day is excellent.
But suicide is not always preventable. Sometimes, no matter what the rest of us may do, our loved ones may see suicide as the only way to end their intense pain. Calling suicide “preventable” makes it appear as though those who lost their lives to suicide didn’t try hard enough (“Your dad should have tried harder to be happy,” a friend told me after his death), or that there was more those of us left behind could have done.
This is not the case.
By the time my father died, I’d had enough therapy that I didn’t feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. I feel lucky in that way…I know there are many loved ones left behind after a suicide who do struggle with that. I battled with those feelings for too long while Dad was alive.