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Support Surrounds You: Addressing the Suicide Stigma

By Rebekkah Wamser
On October 1, 2018

Throughout the month of September many schools around the United States hosted events to spark conversations about mental health.These events beg the question: What exactly is mental health? The clinical definition refers to “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological or emotional well-being.” Our mental health is important at every stage in life, but especially during our high school and college years. This is time when we enter the phase of adulthood and many of us leave home to continue schooling. Many studies have shown this transition period can be the most stressful part of person’s life.

In fact, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four of every college student has a diagnosable illness, which can take on many forms, including anxiety, stress and panic attacks. The most dangerous threat is depression. Depression itself can take any form, but the number one concern for anyone with depression, diagnosed or not, is the act of suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America and the second leading cause of death in people ages 15-24.

The scariest thing to consider is that a loved one could be suffering but no one is noticing. My high school experienced this situation last spring. Seeing that email my mom received from the school and watching my friends trying to make sense of everything seemed unreal.

Kellie Ward, a student who lost her brother to suicide, recalls being in shock.

“I’ve lost close family members, but it was somewhat predictable. When you’ve had some warning, you have time to prepare,” Ward recalls.

She says there were times she couldn’t believe what had happened and times she realize exactly what happened. It began to sink in after about a month, but there are still times she says that she and her family wonder if they will ever fully wrap their heads around it.

The stigma surrounding suicide can make grieving for a loved one even harder. People on the outside will try to blame friends and family for not noticing the changes in someone, and depending on your religion, you may not be allowed to grieve at all, due to cultural views. Just as with any loss, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. As Ward says, “We had to grieve together.”

Her advice to anyone in this situation is surround yourself with a good support system, not to block people out and don’t be afraid to talk about it with your friends and family.

Now, what can you you do to stop the stigma around suicide? The answer is talk. Talk about how you’re feeling, whether you’re stressed about a paper due or feeling overwhelmed. Talking is the first step to healing and recovery. If you aren’t comfortable telling a family member or close friend, talk to a counselor. They are there to help you.

If someone comes to you and tells you they need to talk, here is what you can do:

  • Listen. Don’t interrupt when they are talking.

  • Let them know you understand them and that they are not alone.

  • Take them seriously and don’t judge them. They had the courage to come to you with this information, do not make them regret it.

  • Make it clear you are here to talk to them anytime they need you.

  • Do not go tell the next person you see what this person has just told you; respect their privacy.

  • Do your research if you do not understand something.

  • Tell an adult if you have to.

After the initial talk, believe it or not, the hard part is done. From here you may want to see about talking to a professional who will be able to help you process what you’re feeling. The most important part is the you’re aware this will not be solved overnight.

If you or someone you know are struggling, you are not alone. About 8.3 million adults have admitted to having suicidal thoughts. If you had an experience like this, there is still time to get help. Talk to your friends, family or even a school counselor. There is support all around you.

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