Our Loved Ones Are Not Dying from Suicide

By Jodee Prouse 09/13/17

The suicide of a loved one is a heartache like no other, as we are left with unresolved emotions, woulda, shoulda, couldas, guilt, and haunting visions.

Jodee Prouse and her brother, Brett Tisdale
The author and her beloved brother Brett Tisdale (September 15, 1972-March 18, 2012).

Sunday, September 10, 2017, marked the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week. Until September 16, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of media outlets will be reporting and bringing attention to this very important initiative. They will be speaking in terms of suicide. But sadly, what they all have in common is that they will be missing a valuable component of this suicide dilemma—no one speaks about what causes someone to take their own life.

So, while we encourage those struggling to get help during Suicide Prevention Week by asking them to tell someone, call 911, or contact the suicide hotline number, what we need to start doing is saying loudly, proudly, and without shame that when they take this brave step of speaking about their struggles, they will get help for their addiction issues and/or their mental health conditions. That is what we should be talking about.

It is a reality I have had to accept since March 2012. Every time I hear that someone has taken their own life, I am instantly filled with so much pain, not only for the one lost, but for the family. I do not want to diminish or deny anyone else’s grief, but it is a heartache like no other, as we are left with unresolved emotions, woulda, shoulda, coulda’s, guilt, and haunting visions. Many hide silently, shedding tears behind closed doors, while others judge us and condemn the one we loved.

Sadly, the world lost Chris Cornell just a few months ago. Bravely, Chris’s wife Vicki, in her incomprehensible sadness and grief, dared to say out loud that Chris didn’t want to die and that his death was accidental.

"I know that he loved our children and he would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life.”

Most do not understand. Accidental? He killed himself. I understand.

While none of us knows exactly the mental capacity or irrational thoughts that were confusing our loved one, we know that they were not themselves. When a depressed, anxious, or otherwise distressed person is also under the influence of illicit drugs, excessive alcohol, or a cocktail of prescription medications not taken as prescribed, that person’s loved ones—a select club that we wish we were not a member of—know that their loved ones were not themselves. Something was seriously wrong.

Celebrity Ricki Lake courageously spoke out by posting on her Instagram account on February 14, “It is with a heavy heart that I share that my beloved soulmate Christian Evans has passed. He succumbed to his life-long struggle with bipolar disorder.”

Again, I knew what she meant. And how she felt.

I saw the flood of comments, mostly supportive: “love, best wishes, sorry for your loss.” But, as all of us entangled in this complicated world of mental illness, addiction, and suicide know, the lack of understanding or compassion toward our loved one will rear its ugly head.

Just as when Robin Williams passed, a few short minutes later another celebrity had posted on the internet: “Selfish.”

Ricki Lake was not immune to society’s stigma and judgment either: “No one dies from bipolar.” I stopped reading. After all, I know how it goes.

I disagree. People do die from bipolar disorder and from other seemingly non-deadly illnesses every day. Personally, I don’t think anyone dies from suicide.

I have spent my entire life surrounded by alcohol addiction, anxiety, and depression; it exists on many branches of my family tree. Just like Ricki Lake, I loved someone so very much who struggled in this life. My sweet, kind, smart, handsome, soft-spoken younger brother Brett also died by suicide.

According to the World Health Organization and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, approximately 800,000 people die due to suicide each year worldwide. That is about one death every 40 seconds or 3,000 per day; 40,000 annually in the USA and 3,800 annually in Canada. For each individual who dies by suicide, at least 20 make an attempt. 

As long as we continue to zoom in on just that one word, “suicide,” we will not be looking in the right direction. We will be losing sight of the issues—the causes and help for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and all the other things that lead to someone taking their own life.

I have watched a loved one pass away from cancer. A strong, energetic, virile man gradually became confined to a hospital bed with feeding tubes; he was unable to speak, had suffered weight loss, and became a shell of who he once was. No one would ever say that he died from heart failure when finally his heart could not take it anymore.

My brother did not die from suicide.

My brother died a slow, painful, agonizing death from alcoholism. Did he take his own life? Yes. But that does not change the fact that alcoholism was the disease that led to his death. Had my brother found sobriety and help for his mental health issues, he would still be anxious, uncomfortable, and have to find the strength within himself to work through his pain. He would have had complicated struggles with his family and with all of life’s difficulties, in the way that we all do. But I believe he would be alive today.

And had Ricki Lake’s beloved ex-husband not struggled with bipolar disease; had Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Robin Williams, and Chester Bennington not struggled with mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders, they would be here too. Many of them hiding their own pain, filling our hearts with song.

Just as important, let’s also celebrate and remember the ones we don’t hear about. They aren’t rock stars, actors, actresses, rich, or famous but, like my brother, they are loved by their families just as much. And although this week we are shedding a bright, beaming light on the importance of suicide awareness and prevention, we need to go one step further—add the dialog—and say these are our grandparents, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children, friends, and neighbors who need and deserve help.

They were not cold, callous, cowards, or selfish. They were ill, with addiction and/or mental illness. Just because you may not understand or be able to see it with the naked eye does not make it untrue.

Together, our voices can set an example for how society, the media, and even our own families respond when they hear of suicide. By participating in this effort, we can provide hope, help, and support for the ones who are struggling.

If you or someone you know may be at risk for suicide, immediately seek help. You are not alone.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)

Call 911

Send a text to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. This free text-message service provides 24/7 support to those in crisis.

Call a friend or family member to stay with you until emergency medical personnel arrive to help you.

Jodee Prouse is a mom, wife, sister, friend and author of the memoir, The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame, and Addiction, and How I Broke Free. She is an outspoken advocate to eliminate the shame and stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness and empowering women through their journey of life and family crisis. Visit jodeeprouse.com to learn more.

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Jodee Prouse is a Sister. Wife. Mom. Friend and outspoken advocate to eliminate shame and bring families together that are going through Addiction & Mental Illness challenges. She is the author of the powerful memoir, The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame, and Addiction, and How I Broke Free. To learn more visit www.jodeeprouse.com