Editor’s Note. This week’s editorial is a guest piece by Nichole Ivey, the DFC Program Coordinator at Strategies for a Stronger Sanford.
Suicidal thoughts and ideations do not discriminate; they invade the minds of people across all demographics, effectively breaking down barriers of race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and any other category that can be used to define (arguably, to confine) a person.
Some see suicide as a choice, but this perspective implies, as Adina Wrobleski states, “that a suicidal person can reasonably look at alternatives and select among them. If [he or she] could rationally choose, it would not be suicide. Suicide happens when … no other choices are seen.”
Knowledge is power; one step we can take as a community to ease the stigma around suicide is to inform ourselves and each other about mental health.
Perhaps it is the misguided notion of choice that leads to suicide being pushed to the periphery of society, where uncomfortable and taboo subject matters reside. In some languages, such a word — a word to signify the act of killing oneself — does not exist, as if to not name the act is to take away its power or truth. We rarely hear the word “suicide” spoken, and when we do it’s in whispers or hushed conversation. This shroud of secrecy that veils suicide does nothing to prevent it from happening. Secrecy only serves to further compound grief for survivors by attaching feelings of shame or guilt as well as by closing off existing areas of communication and foreclosing upon areas of potential communication. We need to allow this word into and out of our mouths not only in prevention efforts but also in support of suicide survivors.
Suicide-related grief is unlike grief related to other losses because it is complicated by feelings of confusion, guilt, and more. Survivors never get over their loss but learn to get through it. While everyone grieves differently, the human grieving process often follows this healing pattern:
■ Shock, which is accompanied by disbelief and numbness.
■ Denial follows quickly, crying, “I don’t believe it,” or “It can’t be.”
■ Bargaining is your promise that “I’ll be so very good that maybe I can wake up and find that it isn’t so. I’ll do all the right things if only …”
■ Guilt is painful and hard to deal with. This is when one says, over and over, “If only I had …” or “If only I had not …” This is a normal feeling and ultimately it may be solved by stating, “I’m a human being and I gave the best and worst of me to my loved one and what he or she does with that is his or her responsibility.”
■ Anger is another big factor that seems to be necessary in order to face the reality of life and then to get beyond it. We must all heal in our own ways. Anger is a natural stage through which we must pass. Your anger at your deceased loved one may even make you feel guilty, or it may be because your own life continues whereas your loved one’s life is over.
■ Depression is a stage of grief that comes and goes. Knowing this, be prepared to give yourself time to heal. Resignation is a late stage. It comes when finally you accept the truth.
■ Finally, acceptance and hope. Understand that you will never be the same but your life can go on to find meaning and purpose.
If you are coping with suicide-related grief, the Sanford Strong Coalition, in partnership with Counseling Services, Inc., a partner agency of Maine Mental Health Partners (a division of Maine Health), urges you to call CSI at (207) 324-1500 or the Center for Grieving Children at (207) 775-5216. Likewise, the following sites are excellent resources for educational materials, including signs of suicidal thinking, ways to get help, and literature for suicide survivors: Suicide Survivor Resources (www.suicidology.org/suicide-survivors); Maine Suicide Prevention Program www.maine.gov/suicide); and American Association of Suicidology (www.suicidology.org/home).
Additionally, if you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, please know there are resources available to help you see through to tomorrow and beyond. You can call the Maine crisis hot line at 1-888-568-1112; call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); or call or visit CSI at (207) 282-6136 and located at 474 Main Street in Springvale.
In the event of an emergency, always dial 9-1-1.