Start the conversation: The hard subjects are most important

Name tags with triggers NEWMAN UNIVERSITY offers students 6 free counseling sessions per academic year. Courtesy Photo, Empower Magazine.

I was at the campgrounds of Kicker Country Stampede in Manhattan the day I found out my little brother attempted suicide.

It was 7 a.m. when my dad made the call from Topeka to tell my mom the news. My mom woke me up and took me outside of the camper to let me know what she had just found out – my brother tried to take his own life early that morning.

The campgrounds were about 50 minutes away from our house, so we packed immediately and headed home. There has never been a slower 50 minutes in my life.

This is an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. It’s horrifying and stressful and agonizing and every heart-wrenching adjective you can think of.

But sadly, there are hundreds of thousands of families that have to go through the same experience every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 1.3 million survivors of suicide attempts each year.

This number seems staggering and that may be because we don’t often hear about suicide survivors. We have created a culture that shuns the word “suicide” and shames anyone who has acted on their thoughts of selfharm. We seem to only show sympathy for these people battling mental illnesses once we see their names carved in stone.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 10-14, the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-34, and the fourth leading cause of death in people age 35-44, according to the CDC. This is a prevalent issue in our society, yet people still seem afraid to say the “s” word.

Too often we instinctively push away things we don’t understand. It’s human nature. It’s impossible for me to fully understand what it is like to live with a mental illness such as depression and how that in turn affects someone’s actions.

However, instead of belittling the disease or judging the person suffering, we can learn more about it.

We can actively discuss subjects like suicide, mental illness, and self-harm. Choosing to make a change in ourselves is the first step to helping survivors. If we can create an environment that doesn’t foster disdain for suicide survivors, we can make their battle a little easier.

For society to be comfortable with these topics, first we have to have knowledge about them. The only way we can gain knowledge and become more educated is by discussing these issues. We cannot become informed about something we are scared to talk about.

Yes, suicide is a naturally uncomfortable topic. Mental illnesses are extremely foreign territory to majority of people, including myself. However, I can’t just refuse to acknowledge their existence or refuse to accept the fact that these topics, though they may not affect me specifically, do affect my family, friends, and loved ones.

If you genuinely believe it’s too difficult of a scenario for you to discuss these topics, take a moment to think about the millions suffering with these issues every day. Do you think it’s easy for them to live with depression or anxiety or any number of other mental illnesses? Do you think it’s easy for them to recover from a suicide attempt?

Of course it’s not. These people face each day with more courage than I can even fathom. By refusing to get educated about mental illnesses or suicide and self-harm, we only make each of their days harder. Perpetuating the harmful stigmas society has created about suicide and mental health only makes their battles that much harder. They are in the midst of a life-threatening struggle and we are more willing to turn a blind eye to them than offer help.

My brother now sees a therapist once a week and takes daily medication. He’s doing better, but the healing process is slow. He’s one of my best friends and it breaks my heart to be 151 miles away from him when he’s going through this.

However, I can find some solace in this article because it may be able to help someone else.

If you take anything from this story, let it be this:

Pay attention. Listen. Reach out. Be willing to talk about the hard subjects because those are the ones that matter. Those are the conversations that lead to awareness and save lives.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2015 issue of The Vantage.