By Susan Page, Guest blogger
TRIGGER WARNING This post contains information about suicide which may be triggering to those who have experienced suicidal ideation, loss of a loved one to suicide, or survived attempted suicide.
Suicide happens more often than we would like to think, as I found out for myself earlier this year. I was heading to downtown San Francisco on BART when a person committed suicide by jumping in front of our train. We were told to stay in our train car while the police investigated. Over the loudspeaker a woman’s voice repeated, “there has been a serious medical emergency, please stay on the train. We will update you as soon as we know more.” One hour passed, then two hours, then two and a half hours, and we were still stuck on BART. I began to question this “medical emergency.” I used to be a junior firefighter who responded to emergencies with my local fire department, so I knew that even a stroke patient or someone with a broken neck would have been removed from the scene as quickly as possible. Someone was not telling us the truth.
After three hours the doors opened and we exited the BART car. It wasn’t until I walked into a Starbucks and turned my laptop on that I learned the “medical emergency” had been a suicide. That day while myself and the other BART passengers were looking forward to going home, a person lost their life, a tragedy that possibly could have been prevented.
From this experience I recognized that, even though I am a mental health advocate and have experienced suicidal thoughts and idealizations, I can never be fully aware of the impact suicidal thoughts may have on others. I’m usually thinking about how I am feeling, and suicide is something that I prefer not to think about. That day on BART, reality kicked in. While I had been in class that individual was in so much pain that he/she was confident in taking his/her life. I imagined this person walking down the escalator, watching people on their phones, laughing, frowning, and ready to go home. I wonder if this individual’s death could have been prevented? I wonder what could have been done for them? Is it the lack of education about suicide that is preventing lives from being saved? I do not know, but the BART incident opened my eyes to how suicide affects society and how a life can be lost in the blink of an eye.
The individual who took their life that day could have passed me on the street, could have been someone in my class, and could have even been a friend to someone I care about. Suicide is not just someone “deciding” to take their own life; It is often a result of an overwhelming loss of control over one’s emotions. We may never know for certain why some people commit or attempt suicide and that is why awareness is crucial.
In honor of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, I want to inspire friends and family to learn about the reality of suicide and the impact it has on those who have lost someone to suicide or know someone that is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
These mental health prevention and awareness months are not simply for educational purposes but for encouraging change. Mental illnesses are not always visible, and a person in distress can actually look happy simply to assure those that love them that they are fine when they’re not. I lost a close friend to suicide a few months ago. No one knew his feelings or his struggles. I was aware of suicidal symptoms and even I didn’t think too much into it when I noticed he was feeling down or acting out of the ordinary.
Use this month to consider the mental health of others–of those you love and those who love you–and also be kind to yourself. Suicide is a very real thing, and we can all make a difference by creating awareness of the seriousness of suicides in the United States. Take the time to post something on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or send a group text. Suicide is a reality, and prevention and education are not solely for advocacy groups or those who have been affected by suicide. Everyone can take part in prevention efforts through dialogue, participating in Out of the Darkness walks with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, or by educating coworkers and family members about improvements in mental health care that can happen with public intervention. Your participation could help save a life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Learn the facts and warning signs of suicide here.