Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 14, 2012

Shed the shame and start talking

Within hours of my daughter’s death, the first mother carrying a secret fear appeared on my doorstep. She was crying, emotionally shredded, having heard the news of Jocelyn’s suicide just minutes before.

“I’ve come home probably 10 times, yelling my son’s name when he didn’t answer, and fearing this,” she confided. “This is a lot more common than people think.”

A few weeks later, same story but a different family. A friend told me she came home, worried about her son who was being bullied at school. Her unanswered calls for him turned into desperate screams and tears before she realized he was fine.

 “Thirty minutes later and the same thing would’ve happened to my son,” a man told me. His son’s friend called him and the man was able to get him to the hospital in time. It’s been 10 years, but you could still see the fear for his adult child carved across his face.

As a friend said to me bluntly and honestly, “I feel like you took a bullet for the rest of us.” She meant that our tragedy, the tragedy that was impacting the whole community, brought suicide to the forefront and forced people to face that it could, in fact, happen to anyone. She meant that Jocelyn’s death was prompting difficult discussions between parent and child, motivating families to address mental and emotional health, and showing an impressionable adolescent community the immense pain left in the wake of suicide.

But then our community was slammed by that devastating pain again. Another suicide death, a teenage boy described by church and school friends as funny, caring, and the life of the party. Again, another family is mourning a sudden and agonizing void. My own broken heart now breaks again for them.

Our two families, and our entire community, are not alone in our suffering. Every 14.2 minutes someone in the U.S. dies by suicide. Nearly 1 million people make a suicide attempt every year. Across the globe, more people die each year by their own hand than are killed in homicides and wars combined.

Suicide is on the rise with teens — at least 100,000 adolescents every year. According to teensuicide.us, “The National Institute of Mental Health believes that as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed.”

That makes my daughter’s death, and that of the young boy, all the more tragic ... to think that 50 other teens nationwide tried to kill themselves. I’ve heard from some of these at-risk young people — teens who knew her or strangers who learned her story later — who had previously made an attempt or considered it.

“I planned (to try) again after my failed attempt,” a girl wrote to me in an email, “but then Jocelyn passed away and I saw what it did to our community, our school, and your family and you. It made me tell my parents ... and seek further help. Because I’ve had issues with my mom, seeing how much you love and miss Jocelyn truly changed me.”

“I can understand how Jocelyn felt,” one young woman told me. She had been there, long ago. But she was not impulsive. She’s never been impulsive. “I’m a very cautious person and I’m thankful for that. It saved my life.”

Jocelyn, instead, was impulsive in many ways and I feel it might’ve been her fatal flaw — her impulsivity. Like in most suicide deaths, the mental health professionals who treated her can’t offer exact answers about why she killed herself. Neither can we, her parents. Our rational minds cannot understand an irrational act, said the police detective.

I’ve come to understand that I can either exhaust the whys or exhaust myself trying to answer the whys. It appears that a perfect storm formed to bring her to the edge — among the factors: emotional and mental health issues, relational disappointments, and thoughtless bullying. But I think a dangerous lack of impulse control took her over that edge.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control, after accidents and homicide. It’s an emotional and mental epidemic that is striking those who are susceptible to its poison. It’s my wish to inoculate as many people as possible.

That starts with talking about it, not being ashamed. I refuse to be ashamed. My disappointment in my daughter is devastating. But I am not ashamed of her or ashamed for my family.

I’ve heard from many people who’ve lost a family member to suicide. I’ve also heard from many people — friends, acquaintances, strangers  — who thought about it, or even tried it, sometime in their past. I realize we are not alone in our pain and that Jocelyn was not alone in hers.

“Jocelyn saved me,” the young girl wrote in the email, “and I know there has to be more of us out there, and I just thought you should know that.”

Yes, I want to know that. I want others to know that. I want everyone to shed the shame and talk about depression, suicide attempts and suicide because maybe in the talking we can find the way to stop it.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com. Need help? National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

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