This Saturday is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a day for loved ones of those lost to suicide to join together for hope, healing, and support. The word “survivor” holds a lot of different meanings and emotions. To those who have battled cancer, or another serious illness, the term survivor is one of strength and courage. It’s a badge of honor, and rightfully so. To fight against any disease and survive is something that deserves to be celebrated. However, battling a disease like depression tends to be a different story. To be a survivor of suicide too often carries shame, guilt, and a feeling of hopelessness. Instead of a badge, it is a label.
Although we’ve made progress in recent years, suicide continues to be one of the most stigmatized subjects of our time. This is both heartbreaking and astounding to me when I think of the millions of people who have been personally affected by it. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, someone dies by suicide every 13.3 minutes in the United States, which means more that 39,500 lives are lost each year. It’s estimated that each person who dies by suicide leaves behind six survivors. If that’s true, then there are 237,000 family members, friends, and loved ones left with questions and broken hearts. More than 350 million people suffer from depression, a treatable medical condition, worldwide. When I think about the number of people with a story that involves depression, suicide, or other mental health issues, I can’t help but think there is no reason why these stereotypes should continue to exist.
At TWLOHA, we believe that we’re not alone in our struggles and that people need other people. I was able to witness this firsthand across Indiana during the AFSP Out of the Darkness Community Walk season this fall. This is the 5th year that TWLOHA has been present at these walks, and once again I found myself witnessing the beauty of the human spirit and the amazing things that can happen when communities come together to support one another.
All across my home state, I found stories of strength, courage, and hope. I heard stories of survivors from all walks of life. I met teams made up of family members walking in honor of a loved one. My friend Billy drove more than 6 hours to speak at the Evansville walk and to share his story about the loss of his sister and friend to suicide. He shared his story in the hope that others would find encouragement and hope. I met two high school students who designed and sold awareness shirts at their high school and raised $1,000 for suicide prevention. I heard stories from people who thought all hope was lost, but found the inner strength to hold on.
I’ve been constantly inspired by these people who are not only surviving their pain, but who are also being a catalyst for change. These people have walked through the darkest times this life can offer, but instead of being defeated by the darkness, they strive to be a voice of hope for people walking that same dark path. They’ve made the term survivor a word filled with strength and courage.
Although stereotypes still exist, the world’s views about mental health are starting to change, largely due to survivors who are making their voices heard. Through honest conversation, organizations, and events like the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk, we’re letting people know they aren’t alone. We’re letting them know that it’s OK to ask for help. We’re letting them know that being a survivor of depression and suicide is not something to be ashamed of.
I want to encourage you, my fellow survivors, to reach out and let others walk with you. If you’ve lost someone to suicide or have struggled yourself, know that you are not alone. If your pain becomes too much for you, ask for help. There is no shame in letting someone else walk with you. And know we’re walking with you too.
To find out how you can get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, click here.