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Published March 01, 2012, 11:30 PM

Guest column: Article helps dispel stigma that often surrounds suicide

I would like to thank Tammy Swift for her article entitled “Man Behind the Mask” in The Forum on Sunday, Feb. 26.

By: Mary Weiler, INFORUM

I would like to thank Tammy Swift for her article entitled “Man Behind the Mask” in The Forum on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Suicide quickly shatters our fundamental beliefs about how the world is supposed to work, our expectations about the predictability of life and our “scripts” about how life should go. I now know that all grief involves a feeling of loss, and all loss requires learning how to live in a permanently changed world.

What I have come to know is that suicide happens when intense suffering within exceeds the person’s ability to think, act and feel. Suicide is not a choice – it is the result of a medical condition. It is the result of many complicated medical, emotional, psychological, physical and genetic factors.

Research has shown that more than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric illness (brain illness) at the time of their death. Some of the illnesses that can cause suicide are clinical depression (with or without anxiety) and bipolar illness, all possibly co-existing with alcoholism and/or drug addiction, which is a lethal combination.

What I also know is that those we have lost to suicide desperately wanted to live but couldn’t tolerate the physical and emotional pain they were in. I believe they tried everything they could to stay alive, sometimes battling for years, but their illness was too powerful. It is important to remember that people who get the best medical care in the world still may die from cancer or heart disease. Illnesses of the brain are no different.

It has been six years since the loss of my daughter Jennifer Ann. What I have learned is that many people who die by suicide have given warnings or clues to family and friends of their intentions. We need to continue to educate ourselves and our families and take any comment about suicide seriously. I have learned that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women. We need to reach out to them and provide them with information about the warning signs and risk factors so they can get the help they need.

I have also learned that an essential part of healing is forgiveness, and I am certain that forgiveness, with its many demands, is an essential part of embracing a hopeful future. No matter how much it may hurt, the future awaits us all. In the early weeks after my daughter’s death, this was nearly impossible for me to consider; it was all I could do to manage the moment, the hour, the day. For a very long time, the future was just not part of my consciousness. My road to healing has not been easy, but few worthwhile things in our lives are easy. I need to remind myself from time to time that healing really is not nearly as difficult as the task I have already met – the hour of my daughter’s death and the weeks immediately following.

We will continue to do everything we can to end the stigma that surrounds suicide by bringing suicide awareness, education and prevention to our communities. The North Dakota Chapter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention thanks The Forum for helping us bring hope to those who are suffering and those who have lost someone to suicide.

Weiler, Fargo, is chapter chairwoman, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – North Dakota Chapter.

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