Let’s Talk About Suicide

By: Carmen A. Lee, director, Stamp Out Stigma program

Excerpt from “Let’s Talk About Suicide” featured in September’s Wellness Matters, an e-journal of San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services

For many years, the word Cancer was never spoken about. The newly diagnosed person could not receive the understanding and compassion as they now can and it was scary.

The word suicide also is a word that is very frightening. No one will talk about it, even though 39,000 people in the U.S. take their own life annually with this statistic, unfortunately, increasing. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youths, age 15 to 24. Worldwide, 800,000 people commit suicide every year.

I personally have suffered for many years from suicidal ideation and acting out. I certainly did not want to die, but the pain of clinical depression left me so exhausted and pain-ridden that I couldn’t function and accomplish what I wanted to do. It was the only way to take the pain away – so I thought.

It’s my firm belief that everything is programmed to survive. Notice the little sprigs of grass between the mortar on the sidewalks that struggle, even under drought conditions, to try and survive.

I and others dealing with thoughts of suicide, need help and resources and this assistance is beginning to finally emerge.

For the last three years, I was a part of a 14-member suicide attempt survivors task force from around the U.S., under the guidance and directorship of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. We had two face-to-face meetings and then held frequent conference calls, setting the stage for innovation that brings the expertise of attempt survivors into focus with that of healthcare providers. The major focus of these meetings was to develop a technical document titled: “The Way Forward,” which lays out recommendations for policies, practices and programs to support people experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings and for the engagement of people with this ‘lived experience’ in services and system change.

One of the best exchanges for me, personally, was from a crisis-line volunteer many years ago. I was on the edge of total despair and got the courage to call the suicide prevention hotline.  I am very fragile and overly sensitive at a time like this and am afraid that I will get someone who I feel is tired, or, for many other reasons, I am not able to connect with. This can be devastating -“the final straw”- and causes me to act out. It’s difficult to be so vulnerable, but one is when they’re trying to hold on to life.

However, this crisis-line volunteer was very helpful and said she was overwhelmed with the amount of pain I was experiencing and could we talk about it. In doing so, she validated me and what I was experiencing, and, as we talked, the pain became less and less, some hope was restored and we closed our conversation actually laughing at something that was said.

I am in my 8th decade now and still here! I have support and I can’t say enough how important this is. For those “out there,” there is hope and available resources. Please take a chance, try again and reach out for help.

To read the full story visit http://smchealth.org/bhrs/WM.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can connect you to a trained crisis counselor at your nearest crisis center, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

CarmenCarmen A. Lee directs the Stamp Out Stigma Program, serves as a member of the California Mental Health Planning Council, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Attempt Survivor Taskforce, the Persons/People in Recovery Committee of the United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, and is a board member for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. In her “spare” time, Carmen enjoys playing tennis, reading, writing and being outdoors with her dog.