After losing my father and grandfather to suicide I suffered with my own bout of depression and suicide ideation, and thankfully I was able to get help from my mother, a school counselor, and friends. And it was during my recovery that I realized I could use my one-man play, The Gospel According to Josh, which talks a little of my father’s suicide, to help people who are clinically depressed, suffering from mental illness, or having suicidal thoughts—people who don’t know how or where they can get help or that suicide is indeed preventable.
Because suicide affects millions of Americans annually, one of the questions I always get when presenting the show is, “How do we take extra steps to prevent suicide in our community?”
There are a great deal of different ways and I’ll list a four of them here.
1) Talk about it: Talking about suicide with the right amount of education and research is completely harmless. Asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide will not make them complete a suicide. Asking the question is simply a gauge to see how strongly someone is thinking about suicide, if they’re even thinking about it at all. By not asking and by not speaking about suicide, we create an invisible stigma that says it’s not okay to talk about and receive help for suicidal thoughts. Clearly we want to help everyone thinking of taking their life.
2) Be a support: Offer or give your time to community events like a bake sale, a suicide awareness week, a cook-off—things that promote inclusion of everyone and the idea that your community’s members will support their own tribe. Isolation and non-inclusion can be the kiss of death for people thinking of taking their own life. Remind people that we’re all in this together and we care what happens to every person in our world—black, white, physically disabled, gay, or straight. And the gift of time you give to others is often the best gift you can give of yourself.
3) Be Aware of your Language: Language plays a huge role in how we talk about and conceptualize ideas around a variety of social issues. Words can build up and support or they can break down and add to stigma. Replace the phrase “committed suicide,” with “died by suicide.” Using the word “committed” makes the death sound like a crime when in fact it was something enacted by someone who was in terrible emotional pain who needed support to stay alive and not the feeling of guilt or shame that keeps them from getting help.
Try not to carelessly throw out the phrase, “if ___(I fail a test, if Aunt Bessie makes another fruitcake for Christmas etc.) ___then I’ll kill myself.” You’re trivializing the serious nature of a suicide and don’t always know whose company you’re in who might be dealing with suicidal thoughts.
4) Know your local and national sources of help: Find out who your local psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists are; where they’re located; and how to contact them. Know their policies about taking insurance. Know where your local emergency room is. Memorize the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255. Find out if there are local suicide survivor (those who have lost a loved one to suicide) support groups in your area.
These are simply a few of things we can do as communities to ensure the safety and well being of our members. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org), The American Association of Suicidology (www.suicidology.org), and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) all have wonderful resources and further dialogue on this matter. And it goes without saying, you always have my support and I’ll help in regards to this topic or any other at any time. Thanks!