Talking and Support May Reduce Suicide
By Ty Walker
This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation, and some people might find it disturbing.
Suicide stole the love of my life. Overcome by deep depression and debilitating chronic back pain, my wife and best friend took her life Feb. 13, 2018.
So suicide is a difficult subject for me to talk about without bringing up all kinds of emotions. It happened more than five and a half years ago. We were separated and living apart at the time but still best friends.
I hadn’t heard from her for a couple of days, and she did not respond to my phone messages or texts. When I went to her house, her lights were on but there was no answer at the door. She had locked herself in the bedroom. I pounded on the door screaming her name. There was dead silence. Then I saw the note on a shelf outside the bedroom door. It read: “I’m so sorry. I have to go. I’ll always love you. I want you to know. I’m so sorry. Goodbye my love. There’s no pain here, just peace and love. You were my heart.”
I called 911 and minutes seemed like hours before Portland Police arrived. They broke down the door and called the county coroner. They found her lifeless body, dead by self-asphyxiation with CO2. I went into shock. I could not believe it. This had to be a nightmare. But it was not. Seeing her rolled out in a gurney zipped up in a body bag was all too real.
There were plenty of warning signs leading up to that day that she was thinking about suicide. But I just chalked them up to her being intoxicated and overdramatic. I didn’t take them seriously. She often would ask me, “You’ll be OK if I’m gone won’t you? No one will miss me.”
I told her I would not be OK without her, that I would miss her. I loved her.
It wasn’t the first time she attempted suicide. I know she tried at least one other time before that fatal day. Looking back, I feel guilty, like I should have done something more to prevent my wife’s death. Those are common feelings among family member survivors of suicide victims, I have learned, and we recognize suicide prevention month this September.
According to 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, when people die by suicide, their surviving family and friends may experience prolonged grief, shock, anger, guilt, symptoms of depression or anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide themselves.
Overall, there was a record high 49,449 suicide deaths in 2021, according to Center For Disease Control and Prevention. That’s nearly 15 deaths for every 100,000 people. Of the total number of deaths, 39,255 were male and 10,194 were female. The suicide rate spiked in 2021, reversing two years of decline. And with the continued increase in 2022, rates surpassed the previous record from 2018.
“Nine in ten Americans believe America is facing a mental health crisis. The new suicide death data reported by CDC illustrates why. One life lost to suicide is one too many. Yet, too many people still believe asking for help is a sign of weakness,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The most recent statistics available in Oregon were recorded in 2021, when there were 889 suicide deaths.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline suggest 5 steps to help safeguard people from the risk of suicide and support them when in crisis:
Ask: Asking and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
Help keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to lethal means is an important part of suicide prevention.
Be there: Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation has shown to be a protective factor against suicide.
Help them connect: Individuals that called the 988 Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful by the end of calls.
Follow up: After you’ve connected a person experiencing thoughts of suicide with the immediate support systems that they need, following up with them to see how they’re doing can help increase their feelings of connectedness and support. There’s evidence that even a simple form of reaching out can potentially reduce that person’s risk for suicide.
If you’re depressed and having suicidal thoughts, phone 988. Someone will be there to hear your troubles and talk. For help online after a traumatic event, you can go to tipnw.org. A volunteer will come out to the site and offer support.