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From the Editor: When suicide hits home

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Posted on: June 18, 2018

By MARIA D. JAMES — In 2013, I made an unsuccessful attempt to end my life.
It happened the week before Thanksgiving. During a time when people are typically finalizing holiday travel plans and recipes for holiday meals, I was being admitted to a nearby psychiatric hospital. I had hit a low point in my life, and mentally I was drowning. Sadly, I discovered that my cry for help and attempt to recover had become the source of ridicule and entertainment for individuals in my personal circle whom I called friends. After a seemingly endless period of in my life that included a heart-wrenching period of failed relationships, betrayal and job losses, I am happy to say that, five years later, I am glad I failed. Life isn’t perfect, but I am a survivor.
From the outside looking in, the topic of suicide can be hard to comprehend. But when you are at the other end contemplating whether you can survive life’s challenges, it feels like you are wallowing in mental pool of guilt, shame and isolation. I’ve been there, and I understand.
My heart sank on June 5 when I opened Facebook and read the news that fashion designer Kate Spade died in an apparent suicide. As reported by The Associated Press, Spade was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on June 5. She was 55.
The shocking news of her death filled social media and resulted in a mixture of articles. Some were sympathetic and shared sorrow-filled messages for her family, some saw the incident as an opportunity to call attention to mental health awareness and some articles attacked Spade for being a millionaire who committed a selfish act.
I don’t know what caused her to end her life, but I do know that she is not alone, unfortunately. In fact, a few days later on June 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing that suicide rates increased in the United States between 1999 and 2016. In Maryland, suicides have increased by 8.5 percent. And our neighbors in D.C. and Virginia have it much worse. Their rates increased by 16.1 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively. In more than half of all those who died by suicide, the deceased had no known mental health condition when they died. The report shares the top three factors that contributed to suicide among those with and without mental health conditions were relationship problems (42 percent), substance use (28 percent) and crisis in the past or upcoming two weeks (29 percent).  
I wish I could say that suicide rates have dropped. The police officer who helped me in 2013 said I was only one of many he’d helped. Sadly, it seems the trend speaks to just the opposite. Regardless of your personal thoughts or religious beliefs about suicide, we see that many people are suffering, and often they suffer with a smile in an effort to avoid ridicule and harsh opinions. A common factor we all share is the desire to simply be heard and feel like we matter.
When do we set aside our opinions to extend a hand or listening ear in this fast-paced world we live in? We very well may have a family member, a friend, coworker or neighbor who is suffering in silence.
If you are overwhelmed by stress or feel like you are drowning, there is help. Call the Suicide/Crisis Hotline at 301.864.7130 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.TALK (8255). Text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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