It was New Year’s Eve 2012 and what seemed to be just another celebration of old acquaintances being forgotten proved to be something altogether unexpected. It was that night that my friend Tod Epperson took a taxi to the Golden Gate Bridge and, without warning, jumped to his death on the rocks below. Tod was a young, energetic, happy, and vibrant personality who never let one down when it came to a laugh or a joke. His flare for life and his constant smile made me and so many others want to be around his infectious energy. Growing up, I always thought that people who took their own life were externally unhappy, looked and acted depressed or at the very least, had expressed these feelings of discontent to people around them. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tod outwardly demonstrated only a love for life.
On Monday, May 5th, 2014, I woke up to a Facebook post from my friend Shain. He was as sarcastic as I was and I always loved reading what he had to say – both in public and in private. As I read the post, I realized that it was not from him, but it was instead from his family letting us all know that Shain had taken his own life the night before. I was, once again, in complete shock.
How could this happen? How did I not see this? How could someone who seems so happy take his own life without warning? Why did I not see through the facade? I was left with so many unanswered questions and was determined to try and make some sense of it.
It seems that more and more, suicide is becoming a realistic and viable option to feelings of helplessness, grief and depression – especially in the younger LGBT community. I struggle with trying to understand why this seems to be happening more today than I ever remember. Even during the late 80’s and early 90’s when HIV/AIDS was rampant in our community, you didn’t hear about suicides the way we see them today… why now, why this generation? In a time where the world is more connected than ever, there seems to be an unspoken disconnect that leaves people feeling alone and helpless. The internet facade of having “friends”, connections, followers, and fans seems to have led us to a place where we’re actually less connected, less intimate and more isolated than ever before. No, it’s not solely responsible, but has it made us less aware of our surrounds and the people that inhabit them? Have we stopped “looking up” to really see people? Have we lost our ability to really connect with another person and listen to them?
The bigger picture aside, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die from suicide each year. So what can we do? We can learn to recognize warnings and signs of potential suicide. Education and resources are important now more than ever and being able to talk about suicide frankly and honestly is a key component to saving someone’s life. Most people that are contemplating suicide DO NOT want to die, they just don’t see any other way out. They’re conflicted about ending their life, but just don’t see another alternative. Most people contemplating suicide give signs that they are considering taking their own life…we just need to learn to recognize them.
Here are a few misconceptions about suicide as stated by SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices on Education.
FALSE: PEOPLE WHO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE WON’T REALLY DO IT. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
FALSE: ANYONE WHO TRIES TO KILL THEMSELVES MUST BE CRAZY. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief- stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness. There are moments in lifewhen people must cope, and without the coping skills and/or help – suicide might seem like an answer.
FALSE: IF A PERSON IS DETERMINED TO KILL THEMSELVES, THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO STOP THEM. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
FALSE: PEOPLE WHO COMMIT SUICIDE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE UNWILLING TO SEEK HELP. Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths. FALSE: TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE MIGHT GIVE SOMEONE THE IDEA. You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. Talking about suicide is not easy and if a friend or family member is suicidal, the best way to help is by offering an empathetic, listening ear and speaking very directly on the subject…such as, “Are you considering suicide”?
For those of you reading this who are thinking about suicide, you’re not alone. There are several resources available to help you such as:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org
For those of you seeking more information and resources to understanding what you can do when you believe someone you care about is considering suicide, you can go to:
Suicide is preventable and the more we talk about it, the more awareness we bring to it, the more lives we may be able to save. Tod and Shain are both gone, but the lessons I’ve learned from them have helped me to speak honestly and frankly about suicide with others. Look up…listen…and most importantly, put your phones down and try to really connect.