According to the World Health Organization, someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Until Nov. 12, 2010, statistics like that were just numbers to me. That’s the day my dad, Doug McLean, killed himself. My dad lived out of state, so we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked to, but he emailed me every day from his local senior center. Nov. 10, 2010 was the last day he contacted me. He said the center would be closed on Nov. 11 for Veteran’s Day and that we’d talk on Friday. When I didn’t receive my daily email on Friday, something told me to check on him. Later that day, I learned he had died at age 65.
Physically, my dad, a Vietnam veteran, was the picture of good health. No heart problems or cancer. He was active and ate a healthy diet. But he must have been suffering silently with depression and other mental health issues. People who die by suicide feel trapped in how they feel, and the situation they are in. They feel like there’s only one way out. I went through every range of emotions after my dad’s death — from sadness to anger — and the pain never goes away. I’m sure my dad wasn’t thinking about how his suicide would affect me, his only child. After a lot of counseling, I realized there was nothing I could have done. I’ve experienced a lot of milestones since my dad died. I graduated with honors and earned my MBA. My kids graduated from high school, and some have graduated from college. After being alone for more than 20 years, I’m now in a happy relationship with a kind and caring man. Many of us have been affected by suicide at some point in our lives. Whether it’s an actor, a coworker or our own family member, it doesn’t discriminate. You can be successful, beautiful and healthy, and yet feel like you want to die. Those of us who are affected by suicide have questions. Why? is the most common one, and in most cases, it won’t be answered. My dad may have been suffering from PTSD. I may never know, and I’ve accepted that. I think of my dad whenever I hear an Eagles or Steely Dan song and smile. He taught me a lot, and I’m proud to be his daughter. Suicide doesn’t define him; it is simply how he died. Despite all we know about suicide and mental illness, it’s still a taboo subject. Here are things I can tell you first hand:
- It’s okay to talk about it. You are not alone.
- If you know someone suffering from a mental illness or who is mourning the loss of someone who died by suicide, your presence is what’s needed most. If you really want to do something, a card or home-cooked meal are great ideas.
- Please don’t judge someone who kills themselves. They’ve suffered enough. Focus on the good memories, and not the suicide.
- Mental illness is the same as physical illness – it’s something you can’t control. And, just like any other illness, professional help is essential for recovery.
Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Even if you haven’t been personally affected, there are things you can do. You can wear a ribbon, light a candle, or attend an event. The most important thing you can do is talk about it. For more information, visit www.iasp.info/wspd2019. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
About the author: Laura Hipshire is a communications specialist, Market Communications, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you found this post helpful, consider reading these: