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Please Don’t Change the Subject When I Talk About Suicide

I recently survived a suicidal episode of depression. It wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last, but this time I became aware of something troubling about survival.

It’s very anti-climactic.

This is awful because surviving is a big deal. For me, it’s one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

Yet as I took in the relief, I noticed I was taking it in alone.

When you survive cancer, war or a car crash it seems like you’re showered with love, relief and compassion. Instead, my husband and my mother were thankful I was better, my good friend changed the subject and my psychiatrist noted it in my chart.

At this point in my depression history I’m pretty self-aware, so it didn’t take me long to figure out why I was having some rebound depression. It also didn’t take me long to get angry about the lack of response. Damn it, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished in my life, and all I hear are crickets? But drawing attention to my feat of bravery sounds bizarre. Who goes around telling everyone they just succeeded in not killing themselves?

No one, because we’re shamed into believing we should be discreet.

I think this is a piece of the puzzle we need to address. I’m sure I’m not the only suicide survivor who has had this experience. I also have no doubt it’s dangerous. When you reach this stage of recovery, not only are you still feeling tender from the depression you’ve just endured, you’re also perhaps well-equipped to actually kill yourself. I had a plan, the necessary tools, a letter and only a few tasks on the to-do list before I was ready for action — this is frightening.

It makes me wonder how many suicides happened when the victim thought they had recovered. How many people are dead by their own hand because no one bothered to commend their bravery or follow up? Why do we have to pretend it’s nothing extraordinary? How can we fix this?

We start by talking about suicide openly and candidly — like I am doing right now. We should not change the subject when someone talks about wanting to take his or her own life, or having wanted to take his or her own life. If we have a loved one we know is struggling with or surviving the urge to die, I believe we need to make a big deal about it — this is life or death. We need to get over our own discomfort or we will continue to lose loved ones to something that’s preventable. Shame and stigma help make suicide possible, and our conversations and acknowledgment can change that.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.