How the Stigma of Suicide Impacts Our Healing
Updated: Aug 18, 2019
I’d like to tell you the story of a girl who loved her dad very much. He challenged her and supported her. He motivated her to strive for more than she thought she could do on her own, and because of his love she believed she could do anything.
One year after the girl graduated from high school and moved to college, her dad was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. Even with medical intervention, he slowly deteriorated, becoming someone she no longer recognized. The side effects from the medications he was taking were torture to witness.
This girl watched her dad go from never missing a day of work to hearing the disappointment in his voice as he told her that he had been given one month off with the hope that it might allow him the time he needed to recover. Her dad went from being the guy who pulled his car over offering help any time he came across a person in need to being so sick that he didn’t feel safe driving a car. Sadly, nearly two years after his original diagnosis, at the age of 48, her dad unexpectedly died.
At the time of his death, the girl was only twenty – she was overwhelmed with sadness and grief. She felt intense guilt for not realizing how sick he had been and that she had not done more to help him.
At the same time, there was a young boy who had never had the opportunity to truly connect with his dad in a way he would remember. The boy was only thirteen when his dad was first diagnosed with a medical condition which would result in his dad developing depression.
Unfortunately, his dad’s depression worsened over time. Just as the boy was turning fifteen, his dad had found the courage to admit to his boss that he needed to be hospitalized; he feared that if he didn’t get help for his depression, he would die. After asking for help and not knowing what else to do, the boy’s dad was told that it would cost too much money for him to be hospitalized. His company, however, allowed him one month’s leave in order to work with his psychiatrist and get better.
Nearly seven months later the boy’s dad died by suicide. The boy and his entire family were devastated. At the age of thirteen, the boy endured a loss that no one should have to experience. In the beginning he was sad, but then he was pissed off and disappointed.
Several years later, the girl and young boy were asked to describe how they currently felt in regard to losing their dad.
Girl: “I’m currently at the greatest state of peace since losing my dad. Through my own trials and struggles, I have recently reconnected with my dad in a way that not only honors his memory but also allows me to feel close to him again. His death has had an incredible impact on who I am today, and while it hasn’t always been easy, I’m grateful for all that I have learned and the person I’ve become.”
Young Boy: “I don’t think of it much, but when I do it still pisses me off that he chose that route. People are always telling me that he would be proud of me. If he wanted to be proud of me, he should have stuck around. …”
As some of you may have figured out, the man described in both stories is the same man and that man was my dad. His death nearly destroyed me. I didn’t know how to exist without him there giving me direction … giving me a reason to be successful in my own life. I felt lost without him, but I never blamed him – I always perceived his death as a result of an illness. My brother, however, not having the same relationship or the same level of education on the subject matter, viewed our dad’s death as a choice.
My brother is not alone in feeling that suicide is a choice. Depression and suicide have a stigma that has caused our society to place blame on the person who is sick, on the person who died from not receiving the treatment they needed to effectively heal. It is because of this stigma, that survivors of suicide endure so much more pain than that of someone who has lost a loved one to an accident or some other medical condition.
Survivors of suicide are often consumed with trying to understand how or why their loved one could die by suicide. That alone, should tell us that our loved ones were sick – if they had been healthy, they wouldn’t have chosen to die. Suicide is the result of a person no longer being able to make sound, rational decisions due to the fact that their brain is not properly functioning. Every other organ in the human body can fail; why is it so hard to believe that the brain can too?
My ability to recognize my dad’s death as the result of an illness allowed me to focus on healing myself and overcome the grief of losing him.
The words we use to describe depression and suicide impact our perceptions and our responses. I would encourage everyone to think about the words you use when describing your own experiences and try to be aware of how the phrases you use impact the way you feel.
Phrases that Perpetuate the Stigma
He took his own life │He committed suicide │He chose to die │He killed himself
Phrases that Focus on the Illness
I lost him to suicide │He died by/from suicide │Depression caused his death
My dad didn’t kill himself – depression killed my dad.
Blessed │ Wife │ Mom │ Friend │ Founder of GOOD │ Author │ Public Speaker │ Golf Fanatic
It took me years to find my voice and even longer to learn how to use it so that I’m creating GOOD rather than just fighting the bad. Now I use my voice to heal myself and hopefully others along the way.
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Sending love to all those who struggle with mental health and/or have lost a loved one to suicide.
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