In my life I have thought of killing myself hundreds of times. For me, it was my want to no longer be a burden to my family, no longer wanting to live as a prisoner of my own mind, and it started not long after I was diagnosed with mental-health conditions.
It was the overwhelming feeling of no longer being “normal,” the lack of understanding and support from my family, along with my own judgments about myself. I did not know who I was anymore, and the world got smaller and smaller to the point of me no longer being able to leave my own home.
As a very young agoraphobic mother, I tried to pour all of myself into my children, and my home, because it was all I had really. The days consisted of routines; I clung to them like a life raft. Nights were the hardest for me, and it was in those hours of darkness and stillness that my mind would also head into the abyss.
The pain I was in was not physical but mental, which I could not escape, and I was riddled with misery and despair. Death seemed like it would be a relief; all the hurt would go away. My family would no longer have to deal with me. They could move on and live better lives without me holding them back.
I tried therapy here and there over the course of the last 20 years. It wasn’t until just a few years ago I actually decided what I needed was to be more consistent with treatment, I needed a solid support system, I needed to better understand my conditions, get more educated about them, and last but not least, I had to start talking about it.
It was in being more open and having others relate and validate me, sharing their own stories, that I found myself empowered to do more, to help others stop suffering in silence.
The problem is, we do not have enough resources, support, and understanding when it comes to mental-health and preventing suicide. This is especially true in rural areas like ours. Nine people in Imperial County died by suicide in 2018, according to California Department of Public Health, the last available year for that data.
In a small community like ours, people talk, but why do they not speak about suicide more? The reason is simple: it is stigma, and not wanting to talk about these taboo subjects.
Let me give you some national statistics to put it into perspective. In 2020, 44,834 people died by suicide. That means that on average we lost 130 Americans every day, about 18 of those were veterans. It is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, with an estimated 1.38 million suicide attempts a year.
Some evidence suggests that the rate of suicidal thoughts have been increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in younger adults and youths. So, at this point you might be wondering what you can do to help?
Well, it starts with better understanding of causes of suicide and mental-health issues. It’s time to start these conversations around your kitchen table, at church, in school, and at work. It is through conversations, asking the tough question — “are you thinking about killing yourself?” — that can literally save a person’s life.
When we show support and empathy, we can help to prevent suicide. It is not easy, but if all of us do this, we can help so many decide to STAY! The feeling of just knowing you are not alone can really save lives.
I have started a “Post-It Project” for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week which ends Sunday, Sept. 12), to spread empathy and positivity one Post-It note at a time. here locally, spreading empathy & positivity one Post-It at a time. This is a movement that has been seen all around the world. I was inspired after seeing a fellow mental-health advocate and peer do this across the pond in London.
The idea is, people would see these Post-It’s and share them on social media, and it was amazing. So many were touched by her act of kindness. There was also the Orange Project which had the goal to share 50,000 handwritten notes of hope with students around the globe. It touched the lives of thousands of kids and provided awareness and support for suicide prevention.
My version is a small gesture that will hopefully have an impact. With all the uncertainty in the world — COVID, social unrest, and natural disasters, to name a few — we could all use a little hope, empathy, and positivity. There is power in our words and actions My hope is that more people will join in and take part as I am and so many others before me.
Lastly, there is support out there. If you know someone is struggling, please encourage them to reach out for support either by talking to you, a friend, a parent, a teacher, joining a support group, or reaching out to a hotline. Some great ones include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, CrisisTextLine, text HELP to 741-741, for our LGBTQ+ community, there’s The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or Trevor Text, text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200, and for our veterans, there’s the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255; press 1.
For support groups, the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Diego and Imperial Counties has them available online every week for both peers and family members of those living with mental-health challenges. You can access them by going to the website https://namisandiego.org/calendar/.
Remember the world is a better place with YOU in it, so please stay.
Brianna N. Castro of El Centro is a Peer & Family Support Specialist, Certified Crisis Counselor and National Alliance on Mental Illness Connections support group facilitator for NAMI San Diego and Imperial Counties. Notice the semicolon tattoo in Brianna’s photo; the punctuation mark has become the universal symbol for those who have struggled with and overcome mental-health issues, including anxiety, depression, addiction, thoughts or attempts at suicide, and self-injury.