In the 40 seconds it took you to open this page and begin reading, somewhere in the world, someone has died by suicide. A beautiful, loved and loving soul is gone.
Just. Like. That.
I met a young lady today who lost her 18-year-old sister to suicide 4 years ago. When she told me, she whispered the word suicide, as if to be sure that no one heard her say it out loud. Afraid of the sideways looks or perhaps afraid of feeling ashamed. I’ve been guilty of this myself. When I tell someone how my sweet Peyton died, my voice walks on eggshells. And we’re not the only ones. It seems that the whole world tip-toes around the topic, only discussing it in hushed tones and with hesitation in their voices.
According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people die each year by suicide. That’s more than the population of the Bahamas, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Aruba combined. Think about that for a minute. The number of people who die by suicide annually is more than that of total populations for four countries. In the US, it’s the 10th leading cause of death for people of all ages. For people age 15-24, it is the third leading cause of death. Each year, we lose hundreds of thousands of lost and desperate people to suicide because they could no longer fight the illness that plagued them. They could no longer live with the consequences of their mental illness, whether it be depression, bi-polar disorder or a myriad of others.
Peyton suffered from depression and anxiety, which, when coupled with years of bullying, was more than he or modern medicine and therapies could handle. He had a chemical imbalance in his brain that kept him from being able to cognitively and neurologically deal with certain triggers. He took medication for this, but getting him that help took years of doctor’s appointments, therapist consultations and parental discussions. If my child had had diabetes, he would have quickly been prescribed insulin to save his life. Why do we allow mental illness to be treated any differently? Is it because there is no definitive blood test to determine if someone has clinical depression versus just having a bad day? That’s only part of the problem. The real reason is because we’re still too steeped in a world that trivializes mental illness and marginalizes those who suffer from it.
It’s time that our society discarded the old notion that those with mental illness are somehow weaker or less deserving members of our society. It’s my hope that, by speaking about Peyton’s death by suicide and about his mental health issues, I can allow people a safe place to have open dialogue about it. In his darkest hour, Peyton faced a fear that none of us could fathom and he did that to escape the pain caused by his illness. His illness was bigger than his fear, but my son was not weak and he was most certainly deserving of love and compassion.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation states that 425,000 people die from breast cancer every year. And every year, people in cities across the country tie pink ribbons in their hair, order pink t-shirts and walk thousands of miles to raise money for research. And they have been hugely successful. Survival rates for those diagnosed with breast cancer have steadily gone up. Last year, one team raised over $37,000 in the Austin Race for the Cure alone. So, when do we, as a society, do that for a killer that is twice as deadly than breast cancer? So far this year, all teams in the Austin Out of the Darkness Walk have raised only $23,000. This simply isn’t enough.
So, I guess this post is a call to action. It’s time for us, me and you, to eradicate the stigma around mental illness and suicide. It’s time for us be the light in the dark and to demand that our communities have the resources to help those in need. Please, find out about the mental health resources available in your area and do everything you can to support them. Encourage your local governments to do the same. Find an Out of the Darkness Walk in your area and create a team or donate to an existing OOTD team. And talk about it. Talk about it with your family, your friends, your co-workers, your children and strangers in the grocery store. Tell them Peyton’s story or that of someone you may know. And maybe, in a couple of years, NFL players will wear orange socks for a game, cities will light their buildings in orange lights and schools will have Orange Out pep rallies and everyone will know they’re doing it to support suicide prevention. And then we, me and you, can begin to make a real difference in this world.