I lost my 23-year-old brother to suicide on Nov. 9, 2009. I was confused, hurt, angry, and really sad. I lost one of my best friends and what’s worse; I did not see it coming. He was never diagnosed with a mental health problem and, at the time, I did not recognize the signs as red flags.
Sadly, I’m not an unusual story. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, 2nd leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, nearly 43,000 people have died by suicide. In Pennsylvania, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death with over 1,800 people who have taken their lives, which is higher than homicide rates in the state.
Ninety percent of the people who die by suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, with depression being the most common condition associated with suicides, but that is often undiagnosed and untreated. As a community, we miss the signs of someone struggling with depression; as individuals, we are not aware of physical signals and emotions that can put us at greater risk to take our lives, especially if substance use is part of the mix. If we are smarter about mental health, by knowing the risk factors and warning signs about suicide, we can #STOPSUICIDE.
When I think about the time that I lost my brother, I remember being haunted by the whys of his passing. Why didn’t I know he was depressed? Why didn’t anyone on campus notice the changes? Why didn’t his professors see anything? Why didn’t his friends pick up on anything? Why didn’t he get help? And I could go on and on. My questions drove me to search for the answers and to identify ways to prevent another life lost to suicide. On this journey, I discovered the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
AFSP is the leading research organization to stop suicides in our country. Their mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide with the bold goal of reducing suicides by 20 percent by 2025. AFSP has several approaches to realize this goal with chapters in all 50 states by providing education, funding research, participating in advocacy, and leading loss and healing programs. Because of my involvement with AFSP, I know that suicide prevention education can encourage conversations about mental wellness in our community. My greatest hope is to reach the silent persons and help them feel comfortable in speaking openly and in getting the help that they need because I know that Talk Saves Lives.
Since October 2010, I have participated in AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Community Walks in Philadelphia as a walker and committed volunteer. My first walk was emotional and profound. I interacted with people with whom I may not have normally connected. It made me realize that I had my own preconceptions about people who are impacted by suicide. I felt like I found a hidden community.
As I prepare for my seventh walk, which will be on Sunday, Oct. 2, starting at 7:30 a.m., at the Philadelphia Art Museum, I welcome you to join me and thousands of others to increase awareness about suicide and mental wellness and to be the voice to change the conversation.
If you feel that you need help immediately due to a crisis or feeling “out of control,” you can all the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call the Philadelphia Suicide Prevention Hotline at:215-686-4420.