Suicide. Sometimes that word alone is enough to provoke a sea of emotions in many of us. Most of us have experienced the sting of suicide either in our personal lives or through the lives of others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide by suffocation occurs in about 9,913 cases in the U.S. About 19,990 suicides occur at the hands of a firearm and 6,564 suicides occur by poisoning. In 2011, about 39,518 suicides were reported by the CDC, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death. That’s way too many lives being lost to suicide. What are we missing?
Well…some people might say that we are neglecting the fact that suicide is perceived by the hurting as a remedy for their hurting soul. Despite the wealth, fame, attention, talent, or career they might have, the hurting person is attempting to escape an ever gnawing pain. The pain, often too much to bear, doesn’t always respond to medication, therapy, or years of success. In fact, nothing seems to ease the constant pain but death. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that the most frequent risk factors for suicide include but are not limited to:
- Substance Abuse/Dependency
- Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia
- Personality Disorders such as borderline personality disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Anxiety Disorders
- Impulsivity and Aggression
Suicide is a major public health concern. Even a family with their eyes wide open can miss signs of a hurting loved one. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look for signs. Ms. Penny Knapp, a mother from Canada and a kind Twitter friend of mine, shared her story with me during an interview about suicide in 2013. She was brave enough to discuss the loss of her 20-year-old son. Since the death of her son, she has partnered with people around her to create an organization that can not only help others in crisis, but remember her beloved son Nicholas (top left photos).
Note: Penny uses the term “suicided” to refer to committed suicide.
Let’s meet Penny again:
My journey began at 6 a.m. on May 19, 2011, when two police officers sat at my kitchen table to inform my husband and me that Nicholas, our only son, had suicided. It still seems like a nightmare. I am fully aware that my life has changed forever, and the same is true for my husband and my two daughters. The grief & loss, emotionally & physically, are so confusing and unbearable at times. My journey of grief began the second I heard the police officers say, “Penny your son has died. Nicholas has taken his own life. ” Now I keep thinking, “Nick suicided”.
A lot of questions go through my mind. Nick never had a mental illness or any mental health issues so why would there be an illness to be diagnosed? I am still confused about the need for someone to be diagnosed with a mental illness. How does one get diagnosed with an illness when there was no illness? Did I miss it? What is a mental illness? What is mental wellness?
I see it all the time, suicidal thoughts, struggles with suicide and the need to die to escape unbearable pain, yet there is no diagnosed illness. Many times and many people may feel mentally unwell at any given point of time but that does not mean they are mentally ill or have a mental illness. Why is there so much stress on diagnosing someone with a mental illness? Labels result in stigma and stigma produces fear. Fear keeps people from getting help or denying a need for help. Fear of being labeled, discriminated against, or being looked down upon, will keep some one stuck in their pain through avoidance or denial that they need help.
We have all read or heard stories about acts of violence committed by individuals who have no known mental illness diagnosis until after the violent act occurs. Soon the reports are on how mentally disturbed this person was. Misinformation and incorrect reporting can lead society to believe what explains the crime. We are left thinking that there must have been something wrong with that person. He or she must have been mentally ill and we look for the motive in mental illness. The same can be said for suicide. The first reaction is “he or she must have had a mental illness”.
Developing our organization, Survivors of Suicide Loss took a willingness to help others, and a passion for the cause. Keeping it going and marketing requires a lot of time, commitment and determination. It was early in my journey of grief when I wanted to have an organization that would provide support for those left behind after a loved one suicided. I was motivated to develop Survivors of Suicide Loss because I needed to be clear about what the needs are of a grieving person, and to provide support for those needs in an unconditional, non-judgemental safe space. The biggest challenge for our organization is funding. We try to provide an invaluable service with or without funds. We could do so much more if we had regular funding.
We market our organization through social media. We use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We provide workshops in suicide prevention, suicide intervention, and postvention. We do not have advertising budgets so we rely on social media and other free ways to spread the word.
We meet and connect with other survivors of suicide loss with open hearts. We feel their pain because we understand. We are compassionate and empathetic and aware of the journey. Our help is usually welcomed. Survivors of suicide loss need connection with someone that understands their pain. The first words exchanged are “I am sorry for your loss, be gentle with yourself, don’t expect too much of yourself. You may also have trouble remembering these moments, hours, days, its ok you will remember what you need to remember when you need it. You are not alone.” These are common words shared from one survivor of suicide loss to another. Often we become friends for life.
My perspective is to be compassionate. Never be too busy to listen or to hear what someone is telling you. Choose the type of people you wish to be around ( those who are loving, nonjudgmental and positive). Know your time on earth is limited, and you always have choices. Your choice is in how you respond to events and people while figuring out what the new meaning of life is.
I believe Survivors of Suicide Loss and Your Life Counts along with other partners such as Veterans and Stop Concussions can benefit greatly by sharing the services we provide to those in need. It’s the best of the best services by qualified experts through lived experiences. A lifelong team of partners providing effective expert services that can only grow over time and get better.
SOSL will soon be provide training videos & workshops on line. Our best quality service we offer is a live person, voice, knowledge and contacts of caregivers services provided by those who have lived through the experiences. Peer support, links to personal stories and expert articles from across the world are provided to those who we connect with. Those wanting, willing & seeking to learn more have reached out to SOSL to be trained. We have received numerous requests for written articles, interviews and public speaking. We use social media to share these . I have done FaceTime & Skype with survivors of suicide loss to give them that human connection.
As author and blogger, Christina Rasmussen said: “You are not alone. Start speaking about your loss and you will see how many people are walking with you on the same path. Millions of you. Lets find each other.”
We very much appreciate those who trust us with their hearts and their pain.
Survivor of Suicide Loss – Remembering Nicholas
To learn more about Penny Knapp, visit her sites below:
Penny, I want to thank you for sharing your story with us again. I’m sure you have inspired someone like you, a mother, to step out and do something in honor of the child they lost. I am a firm believer that when something tragic happens to most of us, it is a sign from God to use that experience to change the lives of many. One changed life can change a million lives. I wish you all the best.Tamara
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s personal story. We’ll learn from Dr. Morfitt about his online program for coping with anxiety disorders.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2014). Risk factors and warning signs. Retrieved August 2, 2014, from https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Suicide and self-inflicted injury. Retrieved August 2, 2014, from, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm.