For Those Who Have Loved and Lost

Chances are, you are reading this article today because suicide, mental illness or mental health crisis has affected your life or a loved one’s life in some way. If that’s true, let me start by saying:  you are not alone.

For too long, suicide, self-harm, and other mental health-related problems have been kept in the closet or swept under the rug. Our culture does not want to talk about it. We shroud it in shame and stigma, pushing it further and further into the dark. But, we know that true healing is found in the light.

Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide have felt and still feel the grief, pain, and often confusion associated with self-harm. For people of faith, in particular, one of two responses are typically presented by some faith communities when grieving self-harm related losses:  1) We are sometimes blatantly ignored or avoided, because it’s too sensitive a topic to discuss, or 2)  We are sometimes told that our loved one may be judged harshly for their actions. Neither of these responses are fair or correct. If you’ve ever felt these insults adding to your injury as you grieve, again I say:  you are not alone.

Of course, it does not feel that way right now. Perhaps you feel incredibly isolated. Maybe you feel like no one else understands what you are going through as you grieve. These statistics suggest otherwise:

  • 1 in 5 people in the US will experience mental illness or mental health crisis this year.
  • 1 in 5 IN high schoolers will seriously consider suicide this year.
  • Suicide is the 3rdleading cause of death in the US // For youth in Indiana, it is the 2ndleading cause of death
  • In 2017 in Hendricks County, there were 423 people who admitted openly that they had suicidal ideations or attempts. This number continues to rise.

These numbers are staggering, but they prove that you are not alone in your grief! There are thousands of us here, also grieving, who want to offer you a way out of isolation. We are here with you, honoring the memory of your loved one and the light they gave to your life. More than that, we want to spread the simple message that there is hope for everyone:  self harm and mental illness is not only treatable, it is preventable!

How will we spread this message of hope together? First, we must address the problem of stigma. Stigma is the words we say and the way we say them. Stigma is the judgement we pass both internally and externally on those who experience mental health crises or are pursuing mental healthcare. Stigma is the way mental illness and self harm is often portrayed in media and popular culture. What if we each chose more compassionate words and tones of voice? What if we checked our assumptions and chose to listen instead of judge? What if we advocated against unkind media representation of mental illness, and encouraged the use of professional mental health services?

Perhaps, if we do these things together, there will be less isolation.Isolation is one of the leading risk factors for self-arm and suicide. Isolation sounds like, “Nobody knows how I feel.” / “I’m the only person who is going through this” / “If I speak up, no one will believe me.” Maybe your loved one whom you grieve felt isolated. Maybe you feel isolated right now. The key to reversing isolation is community: compassionate, destigmatized, loving community made up of face-to-face, everyday relationships in which talking about mental health is safe and encouraged.

There is hope. Your loved one’s life was and is still important. We honor their memory with you. It’s  okay to not be okay. If you feel isolated in your grief, it is so important to remember that there is NO SHAME IN ASKING FOR PROFESSIONAL HELP! Therapy helps. Counseling helps. Medication helps. Peer support groups help. Each of these are gifts from God for us to use, to encourage others to use, and to advocate for in our community. Together, with time, we will heal.

Chase Cotten is the Public Health Education Specialist at the Hendricks County Health Department and the Partnership Coordinator at the Hendricks County Health Partnership.

If you are a church leader and want to know what you can do, register for a free learning breakfast on September 17th, and if you want to learn more about suicide prevention, register for a community training facilitated by Care to Change’s Director, April Bordeau.