By Jess Meeth, DFLA National Communications Director
Content warning: This blog post will mention the topic of suicide and suicide loss. If this will be too hard and heavy to digest, please take care of yourself. We’ll be back with other posts.
May is Mental Health Month. As we hit the middle of the month, I want to highlight the importance of mental health as a Whole Life issue. Mental health is a topic I deeply resonate with from my own experience with suicide loss.
September was Suicide Prevention Month, with September 10th being International World Suicide Prevention Day. At DFLA, every month is mental health awareness and suicide prevention month. Every month must be a month for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. According to AFSP, there are 130 suicides per day. In 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide. There were an estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts.
To be honest, I was hesitant about sharing my own experience with suicide loss. It took me a few days to gather my thoughts and feelings. This post is very heavy and hard for me, but it’s important to spread awareness.
Suicide loss has been in my life since the day I was adopted. My mom’s oldest brother died by suicide before I was born. She didn’t hide this from me growing up because she wanted me to be aware.
In July 2021, my mom lost her second oldest brother, an uncle who I met a couple of times, to suicide. This rocked my entire family. I can’t imagine what my mom, her two sisters, and their other brother have been through. Losing one bother to suicide is gut-wrenching, but two brothers is truly something I cannot fathom.
Suicide is often a hush-hush topic, but we must change this. No one should ever be suffering in silence. But so many often do.
When I attended Catholic high school, my school’s priest, Fr. Matt, would regularly tell the student body: “Be kind. Everyone you know is fighting a battle, even one you may know nothing about.”
I wasn’t able to fully understand this until August 10, 2018, when I received news that completely crushed me and flipped my world upside down: My beloved high school classmate, Layla*, died by suicide. (Side note: “Died by suicide” is often now used instead of “committed suicide.” It helps remove the stigma around suicide loss.)
Layla and I, along with our classmates, had graduated from college just three months before in May. Layla was a Clemson alum and received magna cum laude distinction with her Nursing degree from the Honors College. Just a few weeks before her passing, Maeve had passed her exams to become an RN.
What several of us didn’t know about, including me, were the crippling anxiety and depression she was struggling with. There was a lot more behind her accolades and her social media feeds full of smiling and happy photos. We all learned to look beyond the surface and understand that someone’s highlight reels we often see are never the full picture. Mental health affects everyone, even if they don’t appear to be struggling.
During Layla’s visitation and funeral Mass, her parents encouraged us to check in with each other and have vulnerable conversations. They said making the world a kinder place is the best way to honor their daughter. Layla’s parents are truly remarkable people and are doing so much for suicide prevention awareness. By opening up about our heavy and hard emotions, my classmates and I were able to draw empathy and strength from one another.
Fr. Matt also delivered a touching eulogy at a vigil my classmates held. He repeated the same words he spoke to us in high school — to be kind.
I have found a lot of healing in advocating for mental health and doing what I can to prevent suicide by reminding people to be kind – kind to the world, kind to others, kind to themselves, and kind to their mind.
After Layla’s passing, when I started to attend a support group for suicide loss, I learned harrowing statistics. Here are some shattering studies in recent years and months:
- The CDC found that 1/4 of people aged 18-24 contemplate suicide.
- Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression.
- The average delay from the onset of mental health symptoms to treatment is 11 years.
- Almost half of Americans don’t seek professional help for mental disorders, with 17% being dettered by lack of affordability.
- Over ⅓ of Americans live in areas lacking mental health professionals.
This is an epidemic, and I am galvanized. As someone who works in the pro-life movement, mental health awareness and suicide prevention are Whole Life issues.
One thing I really admire about the Biden Administration is their fierce commitment to making therapy and resources for mental health more accessible and affordable. In September, the House passed a bill, titled Mental Health Matters Act, that seeks to address mental health concerns, especially in schools. One Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of PA, joined all Democrats present in voting for it.
I can speak from personal experience how difficult it was to find therapy and counseling with my state’s healthcare plan. The suicide loss support group I attended was free, which was great. But I needed additional therapy for my grief, and it was an uphill battle to receive. The co-pays were way out of my budget, especially as a recent college graduate. The co-pays were sometimes hundreds of dollars. It took me a few months to find a therapist that fit my budget. It shouldn’t be like this. It can’t be like this.
There is so much I could write about mental health and suicide prevention.
But I will leave it on a note of help, hope, and healing.
To my fellow survivors of suicide loss: Your grief is mine, and you are not alone. I know how dark this can get. We can be a light for each other. Lean on others for support and strength. My mom, as a surivior of suicide loss, has been instrumental in my journey.
And to anyone reading: You are brave. You are strong. You are loved. It’s okay to not be okay. We need the light you carry. The sun will shine again. Reaching out is a sign of strength, not weakness.
No one can have it all together, but together we can have it all.
There is help, hope, and healing.
*As requested by my classmate’s family, Layla is an alias name used for this post.