It’s been ten years since my brother and best friend, Tom, a colorful, “wicked” smart, 16-oz burger-loving guy, took his life.
At the time, my family, Tom’s friends, and I knew very little about Tom’s struggles and his suicide shocked us all. After he died, I learned he suffered from “mental illness” and “depression”, terms that only complicated his death for me. Did he have a genetic disorder that most people do not? Was his condition diagnosable and properly treated? What does mental illness feel like? Was he sad or disappointed? Was the depression temporary? Why couldn’t he snap out of it? Was there a cure? And then, beyond these questions, I found it difficult to even talk about him. After all he didn’t just die, he died by suicide, which society had ingrained in me and others that Tom was selfish, that he was weak, that he was flawed, that he just “gave up”—all of which I knew weren’t true. I felt I had to pretend he never existed.
I wish I knew then what I know now. 90% of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. Many do not consult a mental health professional. Diagnosis and treatment are difficult, but they are available. Identifying signs, knowing available resources, and seeking professional help can make a difference.
So I will be participating in the 2017 Washington DC Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk to remember Tom and others we have lost, to raise money that will fund mental illness research and programs to help those suffering from mental illness, to increase awareness of what mental illness is and what can be done to treat it, and to eliminate the stigmas associated with suicide and mental illness.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in our latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.