A Time to Speak — Suicide survivors: You are not alone

Deacon Adam Carrico
Deacon Adam Carrico

By Deacon Adam Carrico

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” First Corinthians 12:26

December 2012 was the month the world was to end. For most, this turned out to be an amusing hoax — a historical miscalculation. However, for my family and me, along with those who knew my brother, this was the month the world as we knew it was shattered.

A few days after Christmas that year, my youngest brother Kurtis took his life.

The recent death of Robin Williams has sparked a national conversation on suicide that for many, myself included, touches upon old wounds that require a long
time to heal. Cultural and religious stigma, despite everyone’s best intentions, prevail.

This stigma only adds to the pain, shame, grief and isolation that survivors of suicide (those left to mourn the loss) often go through. Average people do not want to talk about death. No one likes the idea that somebody close to them might be at risk for suicide. And in my experience this combination leaves a survivor of suicide at risk for feelings of guilt by simply being a reminder of human frailty.

This is not an article specifically on the suicide death of Robin Williams, nor is it an article to focus on suicide prevention, although both are deserving topics.

Instead, this article is dedicated to survivors of suicide, especially those who suffer largely in silence. This also is an article dedicated to furthering the public conversation and acceptance of the hidden reality of mental illness and those who experience the same social stigma and isolation.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s most recent data from 2011, there were 39,518 reported suicide deaths in the U.S. that year. This translates to 12.3 deaths per 100,000. That’s roughly 541 suicides in Kentucky for that same year. The Archdiocese of Louisville is at least a quarter of the Commonwealth, making our yearly total somewhere around 135, with 86 in the Louisville metro area.

All of this is simple math based on population information found online. The point is that my family, and Kurtis’ friends, were not the only ones suffering locally with a similar loss that December. Based on these figures, I imagine somebody reading this is a relative of a suicide victim from around the same time as my brother’s death.

Unfortunately, I am also certain that someone reading this is connected to a recent suicide. My heart and my prayers go out to you — you are not, and have never been, alone.

What are some ways to reassure survivors of suicide that they are not alone?

First, be present. Do not avoid us when we are most in need.

Second, do not avoid the topic of suicide or the name of the victim, as if the mention of it will remind the person. Believe me, we do not forget.

Finally — and this is something we all can work on — The legalistic language used to discuss suicide needs to go. The word “commit” indicates a crime, and as Catholics we do not believe that suicide is either a crime or automatic separation from God. People take their own lives; people do not commit suicide.

This is a start; this builds honest communities, communities that can help remind people what they have to live for.

I have experienced the darkness of suicide in my life, and I continue to struggle with it and the darkness of mental illness. I know I am not alone because God is with me, and I feel Christ’s presence when I share my pain with others. I am not alone and neither are you.

Want to learn more? Visit www.survivorsofsuicide.com. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention can be found at www.afsp.org.

Need help? Thinking of suicide? Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and speak with your priest — tell him, or someone at the parish, about your struggles.

Deacon Carrico is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Louisville in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.

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