*Trigger warning – suicide
When I sit down and think about it I’ve said the word suicide more in the past two years than I said my entire childhood and adolescence. Two years ago I don’t even think I knew how to spell it right S-U-I-C-I-D-E.
“The act or instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily or intentionally,” as the dictionary says.
The thought of suicide never entered my existence growing up. I didn’t know anyone who died by suicide personally, we never talked about it in Physical Education class where we learned about hormones and our ever-changing bodies. The word never came out of my parent’s lips, my pastor’s lips, or my teachers.
The first time suicide entered my existence was on film in the movie, ‘Introducing Dorothy Dandridge’ with Halle Berry playing the lead. I found myself absorbed in the story of Dorothy Dandridge a beautiful singer and actress who rises from a nightclub to Hollywood stardom. Dorothy’s story tugged at my own little girl dreams of becoming a star, and making it big in Hollywood. Dorothy owned the screen in her most famous movie, ‘Carmen’. But, speckled in the midst of success was great pain and turmoil. Things I did not understand. The last scene of the movie still permeates in my mind. A Dorothy Dandridge is found dead at the age 42. If I remember the last scene right, Dorothy is looking at family pictures seemingly in sadness over the tragic parts of her life.
As morbid as it seems, there was something kind of romantic to me about Dorothy’s suicide, a tortured soul finds release in death. It is said towards the end of Dorothy’s life she had as little as $2 in her bank account, had endured two bad marriages, and the heartbreak of caring for a disabled child. In my young teenage mind, suicide seemed like a plausible way out. It made sense.
I never thought of looking at my this HBO special through my parent’s television that I would ever feel so hopeless I’d want to die by my own hands. But, in 2014 I did. I had been researching ways to seemingly die in your sleep for days. And, one May Day I decided it was time for my great escape, my time to fade away from the problems that ailed me. Each time Google search started with a bright logo from The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For minutes on end, I would stare at the green and black letters S-U-I-C-I-D-E with the telephone positioned as the letter C. Could the person on the other end of that line really help me in this moment when I all to do is escape? Will they call my parents? Will they lock me away in an institution?
I know now the answers to those questions. Yes, people who call the lifeline are more likely to connect to treatment. I could be hospitalized, and it was what I needed. No, each call is confidential.
But, I had no good frame of reference at that moment when I attempted to take my own life. I only remembered Dorothy, and how it seemed her death righted her wrongs, and punished the people who had hurt her. I survived my attempt, but the cold, sad truth is thousands don’t. I’m convinced part of the problem is – we don’t talk about suicide. In the nineties I was more concerned with catching AIDS, having a baby or getting black lung from cigarette smoke than suicide or mental health. I remember when I first started my career as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist merely mentioning the word suicide made my body tense up. I would often say it in a whisper as if speaking the word spoke it into existence gave it legs, arms, and a body to grab hold of me or anyone hearing the word. My voice would quiver when he strong S sound escaped my lips S-U-I-C-I-D-E.
Today, as a mental health speaker and advocate I say the word suicide more than I ever heard in my life as a teen. I am convinced that part of saving lives is talking about the realities of suicide and mental illness. We can’t begin to change this alarming suicide rates if we can’t even say it in our schools, churches, homes, or to our children. Silence on suicide is not an option. We have to be comfortable saying it, looking at it in the eye. Words have power. I know this as a journalist, social media personality, and writer. I hope moving forward we use the power of our voices, our words, and our time to take the silence out of S-U-I-C-I-D-E, take it out of the darkness and show people there is so much light left in the world and their lives are worthy of feeling the glow.
Lauren Hope is a mental health advocate and Peer Recovery Specialist in the City of Portsmouth. She was hired to address the opioid crisis in Hampton Roads. Her position allows her to offer support to people after overdoses, suicide attempts, and crisis. She has received several certifications in suicide prevention and over the past 2 years, she has traveled the state informing others about suicide, mental health wellness, and living in recovery. Hope first shared her mental health journey on a blog in 2016 and since then has traveled the state of Virginia giving speeches on suicide prevention, and living with mental illness. Hope is also a blogger, social media personality, and is currently working on a book about her mental health journey.