The tragic death of Robin Williams this week brought up a lot for me, as I imagine it has for millions of people who care for someone suffering from depression or who are themselves struggling. Because depression is something that people deal with individually in their darkest moments, and because there is still unfortunately a stigma attached, we often don’t realize the depth and the devastating reach of this disease until it’s too late.
My family knows firsthand. I was 44 when my father committed suicide on December 7, 1995. I still remember it was a Thursday. Until then, I knew only that he had his “blue funk,” his dark days, but not the depths to which he was pulled. He had just been discharged from the hospital after major surgery and, facing a long convalescence at home, perhaps he thought he was being noble by sparing my mother the burden of caring for him. It may never have occurred to him that she was the one left to find him, to call 911 and to clean up the bedroom where he shot himself. He left no note. Like many with depression, he had become inwardly focused, unable to consider the consequences of his actions on others. For me, there was shock, disbelief — and anger. I had young children. How could he remove himself from watching them grow up?
It’s been nearly twenty years since my father’s death and I know that many families have been affected like mine. According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. There are now more suicides than homicides.
These are statistics that should give us all pause.
September 8th-14th is National Suicide Prevention Week and this is a critical time to raise awareness about the resources available to help those at risk as well as their loved ones. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides a phone number (1-800-273-8255) for people in crisis to call any hour of the day, any day of the year. Veterans can get help through the Veterans Crisis Line. Veterans and military personnel can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and press 1 after dialing. Both of these services also offer online crisis assistance through online chats. To Write Love on Her Arms is a national nonprofit that provides resources at both the national and local level for finding counseling and help.
By sharing my family’s story, I hope that others can be spared the pain that suicide inflicts on victims and those they leave behind. My message is that there is help available and that it is time to bring the discussion about this crisis facing so many families into the open. If you need help, or know someone who does, please reach out today. You can help save a life.