It Hurts Each Time you say “Suicide is Preventable.” by Kelley Ford

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Suicide Can Be Prevented….

I’ve seen this statement in my workplace, in commercials, in the news, in magazines and online. It seems to appear with every suicide that’s of current interest. 

The problem with this messaging is that it infers “we have control” over suicide. If we only pay attention out there, we can prevent the suicide of someone we love. This messaging is painful to me on so many levels and furthers the guilt and shame I live with daily since losing my sister to suicide. It sends the message that someone with suicidal thoughts just needs someone to listen to them. Along with the “new” awareness of suicide, we are bombarded with the tag line and simplified messaging, “if you are having thoughts of suicide, pick up the phone and call xxx-xxx-oooo. It’s that simple! Everyone with suicidal thoughts will run to the phone to call. My cynicism is obvious but I’m angry with this simplified messaging to fix a huge complicated tragedy. 

I sincerely appreciate the heightened awareness that’s evolving about suicide. I’m thankful that suicide is coming out from behind closed dark doors but with our quick fix and fast paced society, the branding minimizes the grip depression can have on someone. The act of suicide on the surface may appear to others as a simple means to end a “temporary suffering” but the truth we know as survivors is that it’s a very tragic result to a very complex pain.

I wish I had answers to help people better understand suicide and its impact. Sadly, I’m still trying to figure out how to live with my sister’s suicide. There are many layers to suicide and suicide loss, but when opportunity presents, I will keep trying to help people understand suicide a little differently than the simple branding that’s out there. If only one conversation at a time, however we can accomplish it, but I’m going to keep trying for my sister’s sake.


35 Responses

  1. Melanie
    | Reply

    Thank you for this, I have felt the same pain at these insensitive words like it’s as easy as picking up the phone or having a conversation. In our society we want a quick fix, not a long term solution. Thank you for speaking to the pain so many of us feel when we hear these words.

    • Donna Parker
      | Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts around suicide. I agree with your position. Loosing my 25 year old daughter and having supported her struggle with mental health, I cringe at the simplistic view of mental illness.
      Very few understand the journey and treatment if this complex illness that leads one to Suicide. My daughter received excellent care, had multiple medication adjustments, attended a support group and appeared to accept responsibility to manage her depression. After all that we endured, I could not save her and live with survivors guilt everyday.

  2. Jan
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for writing this article. It speaks to me on a very deep level as I continue to struggle with the loss and guilt – oh the guilt – of my husband’s suicide. It’s just been a little over a year and I just keep thinking I didn’t do enough or that I should’ve known. And perhaps some of this simplistic view of suicide is why I think I could’ve saved him. But as you point out – it’s such a tragic act for the complex pain he must of been in. Thank you again – Jan

  3. Mary-Jean Hunt
    | Reply

    This is spot on!!!! I lost my beautiful cousin to suicide 4 years ago. It kills me every time I see these commercials or the posts on SM after someone famous dies by suicide.
    My response to those who think it’s as easy as a phone call is “do you really think we didn’t do everything possible to help him?” Of course we did. It’s just not that easy. We as survivors live with it everyday

  4. Michael
    | Reply

    Bravo! Well written…. I think about this all of the time….”don’t you think I was there to listen? Don’t you think that I didn’t say I love you”….

  5. Jody
    | Reply

    I understand and agree with you. You can’t stop someone if their determined. I tried and tried and it makes you feel responsible to keep them alive. Just when I was believing he would choose life and me. He killed him self the next day. It’s not our responsibility if they choose suicide. But it sure makes you feel responsible when they die.

  6. Angela Morton
    | Reply

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. I lost my amazing mother. And I feel all that you said. Powerful and true

  7. Kristene Elmore
    | Reply

    Your words are so true. Thanks.

  8. Diane
    | Reply

    Spot on! Every time I see the posted 1-800 number, I can help but think “he” never would have called it. I am grateful for the messaging that goes along with it but very skeptical. I’m sorry but I just can’t help it.

    • Pam Barnes
      | Reply

      Thank you for writing this! I agree with you 100%. Since Losing my 18year old son, Craig, in 2006, it still surprises me when people ask, “well did you see any signs?” I am thankful like you, that conversations are being held on this subject. But there are so many dynamics involved, we may never understand. Thank you for speaking up.

  9. Kathy
    | Reply

    I have been feeling the same way. It seems my Facebook feed is filled with this new simplified messaging, and it makes me crazy. Which is it? We can prevent suicide? Or the text book instruction to the grieving, It is not your fault that someone chose suicide? Sure, just wear a t shirt that says ‘Be Kind’ and lots of people considering suicide will change their mind. Where do I buy one. One ad even said that 44,000 people commit suicide each year not knowing Jesus as their savior. How presumptuous. My head exploded. You are spot on with the statement “it is a very tragic result to a very complex pain.” I’m very sorry for the loss of your sister, I lost my brother on new years eve 2014 and I am also trying to figure out how to live with the loss. It is an unexplainable pain. But one conversation at a time, as survivors, we can help reshape the messaging.
    (I love the garden you created in memory of your sister, I am inspired to do the same for my brother)

  10. Ashley
    | Reply

    In my opinion, the statements “Suicide is preventable.” and “Suicide can be preventable.” are very very different. I lost my husband to suicide in February and I also struggle with a lot of guilt. I know I did not force his hand or make the decision for him but he didn’t talk about his struggles. Hindsight is often 20/20 and I missed some big things. He was in a car accident a year and a half before he died and suffered a bad concussion and everything changed after that. I do think his suicide could have been prevented had he opened up more or had I asked more questions and understood the process a little more. With that being said, I don’t think that is true for every case. Some people are tormented most of their lives despite the treatment and therapy. I 100% agree that that statement simplifies a really complex event and minimizes the agonizing pain and torment that person was feeling but it also opens up the discussion. I think the statement that suicide is preventable is wrong and harsh but I do think it can be prevented in some situations, unfortunately not all.

  11. Lynne
    | Reply

    Very well said. My daughter died by suicide two days shy of her 21st birthday. I totally get what you are saying. Simplifying a very complex decision further compounds our loss and adds to the guilt we all have at some level as survivors. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings.

  12. True Garant
    | Reply

    I feel the same way. My 16 year old son took his own life. Will be 3 years come Sept. 14th. No one knew he was hurting as bad as he was. He was home for 20 mins and then he was gone. I always wonder if I had just come to him 2,5 or 10 mins. Would I have been able to stop him.

  13. Lisa Gallucci
    | Reply

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this article. I feel the same way about my husbands suicide. I don’t know that it was preventable. He refused all kinds of treatments and would not seek counseling. There is no quick fix and the person has to want to be helped. Thanks for your honesty. This is a daily struggle.

  14. Amy Haden
    | Reply

    I saw this recently and it actually made me almost angry. The actual quote was “Suicide is 100% preventable” That statement is as Untrue as “Suicide is selfish” I lost my beloved husband to suicide October 8, 2017 and each day learn more and more about the tragedy, the unrelenting pain, the great cloak of sorrow that involves those who see know other way for the horrible pain to end, to those who are left behind and now feel that same pain themselves…. As God allows, I want to do all I can for those whose pain is so great, hopelessness so overwhelming, disparity so encompassing, they see no other way, to work to simply love and affirm and BE THERE for all those who suffer from this. It is a sorrow specific to itself, a grief without compare. I believe God’s heart breaks even more for these hurting souls.

  15. hannah rubalcaba
    | Reply

    Love your view on suicide. We have the same view point. You opened my eyes when you said “a tragic result to a very complex pain”. I lost my sister to suicide 4 years ago. It doesn’t get easier, but only manageable. Much love to you and your family.

  16. Robin O’Hearn
    | Reply

    Thank you , I lost my sister to suicide just 1 year ago ,sad thing about it she had a history of depression but looking at her you never would of known . My sister Dawn always carried a smile ,she hid her depression well.she was the kind of person that helped others always getting involved in a fundraiser to help others or starting one to raise funds for others. I still ask the question of why did she do this and saying I just don’t understand,her loss presents has affected and hurt us than there is times I get mad that maybe I could of been their more for her since I knew she had a history of depression and was at the time going through marriage problems.I’ve even went as far to go see a medium to see if I could get some of the blanks filled in.

  17. nick
    | Reply

    i agree, it’s very difficult to comprehend and make sense of suicide. it’s not as simple as a phone number to call or a magic pill to take. the awareness has been great but i still struggle with “understanding” why my daughter took her life. i searched and read articles just trying to make sense of it all. i came to the realization that nothing i read would truly make me understand and make it “ok” in my mind. i didn’t have control, nor could i have set parameters in place to prevent it. how could i battle an enemy i can’t see? this has been very challenging for me. for now, i keep the communication lines open with my other two daughters. i feel talking and healthy expression of emotions is how i can best help them cope with their sisters suicide. when i feel they are going through difficult times, i’m more likely to spark up dialogue and remind them that they don’t have to feel they are alone.

  18. Shantelle
    | Reply

    Thank you! I live with guilt everyday and this wording is very painful and only reinforces my feelings of guilt.

  19. Judy Schneider-Wallace
    | Reply

    Thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

  20. Doug Hayman
    | Reply

    Kelley,

    Thanks for writing and sharing this point of view. It really resonates with me regarding the loss of my brother to suicide. He sought help and had family members regularly engaged with him showing they cared. So glad you challenged the simplistic messages that are out there when this is such a complex issue to take on.

    Doug

  21. Stella
    | Reply

    Kelley, you speak my truth. Every time I hear that suicide is preventable, I feel like a complete failure as a mother. If only it was as easy as calling a hotline number or taking a magic pill.

  22. Karen Erickson
    | Reply

    Yes. Not sure that suicide is preventable in the true sense. My brother was hospitalized for 10 days, on mediacations, and came home and took his own life with this daughter in the house.

  23. Marie Bell
    | Reply

    I lost 3 love ones by suicide
    One aunt she was 42 in early 80’s
    My youngest son was 37 in 2011
    My husband was 59 in 2018
    Never did it crossed my mind that this people that meant so much to me would take their lives
    Preventing someone to do so for me is comparable as preventing an earthquake to happen
    How many times have I asked myself why did I not see this coming
    I will live the rest of my life asking myself over and over why did I not see desperation and their pain
    Lives everyday are taken by this sickness families are destroyed and still nothing to prevail

  24. Maria
    | Reply

    I really agree, because see this statement opens the wound that I feel in my heart of not having done maybe what I should do and avoid in this way my son’s suicide 7 years ago.

  25. Debbie
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing . I feel the same since losing my brother to suicide. It is still hard after 5 years.

  26. Grieving momma
    | Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree! As a survivor and clinician, I have experience with both sides of the coin. More research and evidence-based therapeutic and psychopharmacological treatments are necessary. What we have is a bandaid (if that) – which I hope helps some. It certainly does not apply to all, however. The messaging is unrealistic and the current system & protocol for treatment needs a huge upgrade. For survivors the message = failure. Thank you for this!

  27. Marcia Taylor
    | Reply

    Thank you. We lost our beloved grandson to suicide 2 yrs & 4 months ago. It will never be okay.

  28. Andrea Miehlisch
    | Reply

    Thank you for making this point. I just attended a showing of a documentary about awareness raising. The discussion to follow pointed out how we can prevent suicide “just” by talking to people who seem depressed. Really? I just walk up to a total stranger and ask if he or she has suicidal thoughts right now? My son had depression which killed him. To the rest of the world he seemed utterly “normal”. He would have denied feeling suicidal. I should know I did ask him and he assured me that he would never consider suicide. He knew about the Hotline. Suicide like cancer or diabetes isn’t always preventable. Sometimes there’s just too much going against you in your body to fight or prevent it.
    And yes, as you pointed out, the branding is 100% preventable is only making us survivors feel guilty and inadequate to say the least.

  29. Jade McAuliffe
    | Reply

    Thank you for this. You and I speak the same language and I’m so grateful.
    I lost both of my sisters and I get very upset with the message that suicide is “preventable.” It’s preventable like heart attacks are preventable… people have to be willing to seek and accept help, but sometimes we don’t know when people are actually suffering. I appreciate you and your work very much.
    Thank you for speaking the truth

  30. Carol Hanson
    | Reply

    I agree with you completely…..I lost my daughter and I have learned the act of suicide is not preventable as much as I wish I had that power within myself. It is so very complicated and like you said has so many levels and twists and turns over an extended period of time. There are no simple, one word fixes and it is even too draining as a Survivor to try and explain that to someone who wants a quick solution to this tragedy. Thank you for your words and may you feel big hugs from all of us who DO walk in your shoes and understand. ❤️

  31. Tiffanie Knight
    | Reply

    I definitely feel these phrases do not at all accurately explain the complexity of suicide and are very hurtful to those left behind. Of course if we had known we would have done more. Of course we were listening. But they weren’t talking. And just for the record I have struggled with suicidal ideation myself. It’s not at all easy to talk about it. You have so much fear. It feels like the people around you will either not understand or think you’re crazy. There is a very real fear of being locked in a hospital as if that fixes it. There is the fear that they will tell you what everyone always says about depression … Just fake it til you make it, you gotta get up and take a shower and you’ll feel better, you have to try to be happy … Yeah like I didn’t already try all of that. If it were that easy I would just choose to not feel that way. So no it is not this simple it’s preventable attitude that is going to fix it. It’s realizing that you need to pay attention and KNOW warning signs BEFORE you encounter this. I look back and see TONS of them but at the time I had no idea that’s what I was seeing. From him withdrawing completely to drinking and self medicating, to being sneaky, to acting completely irrationally, tons of signs were obvious. Just we didn’t know that those were the signs for suicide. Sadly nobody does because we’re still not talking about it the right way. I mean yes it can be preventable but that’s a hell of a lot of stars to align to make that statement true. We have got to start talking about the reality of suicide and really get people aware if we ever want to make it stop. I always say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and we can face anything together. Talk to your loved ones. They are there to be your rock when you cannot. Lean on them.

  32. deborah
    | Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I cringe when I hear or read that “suicide is preventable”. Well it wasn’t for my poor son.

  33. CC
    | Reply

    I too feel just like this. We lost our 17 year old son 1 year , 11 months ago. Of course we tried everything we could to help him; and of course I feel horrible guilt that we couldn’t. My therapist compared depression to cancer: the treatment works for some, but unfortunately not for all.
    I feel like the suicide prevention groups who use these types of messages are somehow betraying us survivors.

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