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By Shane Gilreath
September is Suicide Prevention Month. It’s a cause close to my heart. Suicide is an unspoken pandemic that claims many lives and leave families reeling and ever changed in the aftermath. My family is among them. The organization, To Write Love on Her Arms, has a social media meme for the month that says, “the world is NOT better without you.” It’s a true and positive message that many will need to hear.
On May 24, 2017, someone called my office and after screaming and berating me, told me to “put a gun to my head and pull the trigger and make the world a better place.” Sadly, one of the kids was standing there to hear it, but the bigger irony was that a friend of mine – a counselor – was also standing outside my office waiting to see me, and she was there to give me a rock she had painted. “You handled that well,” she said, knowing both the impact of suicide prevention and the closeness I feel to the cause. She and I (and many others) have talked endlessly on things to do to combat the alarming statistics. On the rock, she had painted a semi-colon, both for my dedication to the cause and in memory of my brother, who died in 1986. Project Semicolon was founded in 2013 as an American mental health nonprofit organization that functions as an anti-suicide initiative, but I’ve always been struck by the correlation between suicide and the treatment we receive from others. We see that often in schools and among teenagers, but the behavior of adults cannot be excepted. Thus, when I saw the meme from To Write Love on Her Arms, I was immediately taken back to being told to “make the world a better place,” and wondered how someone – perhaps one in a state of depression or deep self-doubt – might have reacted differently. The truth is, there are many variables, but when we look at the world and the absence of kindness and seeming lack of human understanding and compassion has to be considered a component to a pandemic that robs families every day: 130 families lose a loved one daily in the United States. The lack of understanding and empathy has pervaded our schools, our politics, our communities and organizations, all over the world. Unequivocally, how we treat one another – in agreement and disagreement – how we approach matters, how we approach empathy and understanding define us. That’s a mark of our own character.
Statistics show us that, far too often, how someone is treated and a lack of empathy lead to suicidal tendencies. Far too often still, those who bully and harass do so in a manner to isolate their victim from any support. Those who may ordinarily show support are also afraid of being the next target. It is vicious and cyclical in that way.
Recently, through my own experience, it became clear to me just how pervasive it can be. It made me empathize with our kids, who we have heard so much about. Adults may have better coping skills, but there is little difference. With the “worldwide web” so ubiquitous, there is no escape: text messages, emails, Facebook, X, messenger, Instagram, phone calls, Snapchat, TikTok, and others, are all means to tighten the noose. Why is hard to say. If we could identify the person most likely to attempt suicide, maybe we could prevent it. Markers are not always evident. Because of the stigma attached, no one, we can reasonably guess, wants to be that person. So, when we’re told to be kind and understanding to one another, because we don’t know what people are dealing with, I’d encourage you to heed that advice. In kindness, we don’t isolate, and it’s important that people know they are not alone.
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, call 988
Emergency number, call 911