This story was originally published on May 19, 2016.
A few years ago, I called my dad for one of our weekly chats — but he wasn’t happy to hear from me. “Today, something happened that I never, ever wanted to happen,” he said wearily. He had just found out that my uncle had died by suicide, and he was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to say — or how to help.
Suicide is often talked about like an anomaly, an extraordinary tragedy — yet it’s heartbreakingly common. Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death
for all ages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And a new government report
, released in April, revealed that it’s on the rise
: The suicide rate rose overall by 24% between 1999 and 2014. Men are more likely to die by suicide, but women attempt it three times more often
High-profile suicides or suicide attempts make headlines (think Robin Williams
, or countless others), but when it hits closer to home, we have trouble broaching the subject, which leads to a shroud of silence.
Research shows that glamorizing or sensationalizing suicide can increase its likelihood, but honestly discussing it does not
. Instead, an open conversation about mental health issues — and the fact that help is out there — can fight the stigma of mental illness, benefitting both those who have contemplated or attempted suicide and those who have lost someone to it.
That's why I talk about it. When I tell people my uncle died by suicide, I could be telling them anything. I’m matter-of-fact and composed: all facts, no tears. It’s been hard to process. My uncle and my dad had stopped speaking years earlier over other family issues — the kind you might find in a Tennessee Williams play. So the last time I saw my uncle was at my high school graduation. I waved at him from the football field.
We know very little about what was really going on in my uncle’s life when he died. Maybe he’d still be alive if he had better access to mental health resources. My uncle’s no longer in pain, but the family he left behind will never get over this loss. I hurt for my cousins and their children, my aunt who still lives in the house where he died, and my dad whose last words to his brother were angry.
My sister and I don’t have the closest relationship these days, and my dad regularly urges me to be the bigger person and fix it. “Someday, she’ll be all the family you have left,” he says. I know he thinks of my uncle then.
Suicide is sad, tragic even, but it’s not shameful. It’s a health problem, and it can be prevented.
I talk about my uncle’s death because it feels better than acting like everything’s fine. He mattered too much for me to stay silent.
To continue this conversation, we collected stories from R29ers about the impact suicide has had on their lives — and what they wish others knew about this issue. Click through to read them, and know that whatever your relationship to suicide, you are not alone. If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline