Encourage people to seek help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

Anyone who has ever lost a family member or close friend — whether it be from illness, accident or old age — knows the burden of carrying a kind of pain that is just incomprehensible to those who have not.

The silver lining, if it could be called that, is that most people have experienced the death of a loved one, so there is a kind of solidarity amongst them.

When my mother died five years ago, there were numerous people who told me they “knew how I felt,” because “they went through the same thing” when their parent, friend or grandfather died.

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It was of little comfort at first, because how dare anyone claim to know how I was feeling?

“You don’t know jack about how I am feeling,” I thought.

Of course I never said that out loud. I knew people just wanted to help, to be a comfort in a tough time.

And now, when someone I know experiences a loss like that, I find myself offering the same platitudes: “If you need someone to talk to, I know what it’s like…”

Social media, media in general, really, has been buzzing about the death of Robin Williams.

First came the immediate word that he had died and in an instant, Facebook and Twitter were flooded with quotes from “Dead Poets Society” and photos from moments in his long and varied career.

Then it was revealed the actor had committed suicide, hanged himself in his home.

It was a shock to the world to hear that someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many people was a tortured soul who couldn’t bear the thought of living another day.

Depression, anxiety, the early stages of Parkinson’s disease or a combination of all three, we can’t know why Williams killed himself. That will be the most difficult thing for his wife, children and family to deal with.

And there are going to be fewer people offering up the “I know how you feel” speech.

I know that from experience. When my uncle killed himself about 15 years ago, not one person claimed to know anything about how I felt. Of course, I didn’t even know how I felt.

No matter what life throws at us, we get through our day, get some sleep and do it all again the next. Work is stressful, money is tight, nothing seems to go right, but we endure.

It’s hard to accept that someone you know and love decided enough was enough. I can’t do this anymore.

I was a sophomore in high school when my uncle Freddie shot himself. I can still remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom, listening to music, when my grandmother answered the knock at the front door. I can remember her hysterically screaming for my dad when the deputy told her that her oldest son was dead by his own hand.

From there, it was an utter blur.

My uncle and I had be extremely close my whole life. He lived with us until just a couple of years before he died. He had moved to South Carolina to be near the beach.

To me, it seemed as if he had a great life down there.

There was no note. He just ceased to be alive and I’ll never know why.

Was there some underlying mental disease our family didn’t know about? Was he suffering from severe depression? Was there substance abuse?

How could the smartest, most level-headed person I know do something so extreme?

Those questions would never be answered. And even if they were, nothing would ease that particular kind of pain of losing someone in such a dreadful way.

I can say, based on my personal experience, losing someone to suicide isn’t something you ever truly get closure on. You get through it but you don’t get over it. You just learn to live with it.

Sure I don’t burst out into tears at the mere thought of it, but the pain is still there.

Some of you know that feeling, and I’m very sorry for that.

In the wake of a celebrity’s death, a spotlight is shown on the issue. In Williams’ case, depression and suicide in general. Some people will vilify, others will try to start a constructive dialogue to educate the public on these issues.

Thankfully, those who want to help are raising their voices over the ones who would make a mockery of tragedy.

The day after Williams’ death, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received the second-highest call volume in the past year. If those people didn’t know where to reach out before, it seems they do now.

And that is somewhat of a comfort, that people battling demons of suicide decided to reach out.

Even still, there are so many people each year who don’t. According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, more people die from suicide than die from homicide in the United States. Pretty shocking and sad.

If you know of someone who is battling deep depression, mental illness or any problems they think are too big to handle, encourage that person to seek help. That’s what I would have done for my uncle if I had known he needed it.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-TALK. All calls are confidential and free.


Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.