On a beautiful September day in Telluride I chose to wear gold beads as I walked down Colorado Avenue. Why gold? I wore the strand of plastic gold beads because I lost my Dad to suicide in August 2014, just before the start of my junior year at college. The next day, the world learned of Robin William’s death from suicide. Before the semester was over, a high school classmate and several of my fellow college classmates, were also lost to suicide.
That October four years ago, I walked down the streets of my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, again wearing gold beads, as I participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. When I first arrived at the walk I felt overwhelmed with the raw emotions of loss and sadness. It was comforting to be surrounded by others with similar experiences. I was inspired by those who openly shared their personal stories and struggles. I was filled with hope seeing all the people that showed up that day to fight suicide.
On the three-month anniversary of my father’s death that November, I skipped class struck with grief and too upset to get out of bed. Literally out of the darkness from that painful anniversary, I thought of the idea to have one of these walks at my college. From that day I worked to organize two walks in Boone, North Carolina and two more walks in my new home of Telluride.
Though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, there truly is hope, even out of the darkest times. These walks help us to spread awareness and hope, work to end the stigma, and help to educate each other on suicide prevention.
We are all too familiar with the statistics about suicide. But those are numbers on a page and like many of us, I did not realize the extent of suicide until it affected me so personally. In the United States, a person dies by suicide every 12 minutes. Research has shown that 90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
Most mental illnesses can be effectively treated and most of those suffering from mental illness do not die by suicide. Unfortunately, my Dad’s story did not have a good ending. My dad suffered from mental illness for decades. He tried countless medications, treatments, and therapies as he struggled with anxiety, anger issues, and most profoundly depression. In his attempts to feel better, he was said to have abused prescription medications and alcohol. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, but not until he was 60 years old, many years after the onset of symptoms. This was not unique to my father—the average delay between the onset of symptoms and a person receiving treatment is 10 years.
Over the years, he said some extremely hurtful things to me. There was a defining moment when I realized that it wasn’t my Dad saying these things to me- it was his mental illness, his sickness. His behaviors were symptoms of his sickness. That moment re-emphasized for me that mental health matters.
Being a voice for suicide prevention has been an essential component of my healing process. Going to counseling was helpful too. Initially, I did not want to see a therapist. It was not easy for me to tell my friends “I am in therapy.” But there should be no shame in getting help. Please speak out, ask for help, and share what you are experiencing. We must talk about suicide, so we can end the stigma.
Like many others, I have felt and continue to feel immense guilt and pain after losing a loved one to suicide. But as I walked down Colorado Avenue I know that I tried my best as a daughter. I walked full of hope, proud of my Dad for fighting so hard and I will love him always.
As a community and as individuals, we fight through our pain and continue our path of healing together.
I hope that you, too, will recognize that Mental Health Matters. It mattered to my Dad—he worked so hard at trying to get better. It mattered to me and my family as we worked to recover from his suicide—an ongoing process that has been helped by family, friends, and counseling. It matters to our community—we have lost too many to suicide. Mental Health Matters to me and I hope to you.
If you or someone you know are in crisis or considering suicide, call 800-273-8255 or text 741741.