A survivor of suicide – that’s what they now call people like me. My daughter died at the age of 33 on March 20, 2006. It hardly seems possible that Aug. 31 marked the fourth birthday celebrated for her rather than with her. With a fresh-baked Yum Yum cake in hand, which she learned to make in kindergarten for Mother’s day, my routine each year has been to visit her grave, enjoy a piece of cake for her, read some of her poetry out loud, and tell her all the things that have been done to continue to make a difference in the world in her name. Among those things is this annual article written for publication for Suicide Prevention Week, Sep 6 to 12.

Every 16 minutes in our country someone’s loved one dies by suicide. By the time you finsh reading and digesting this message, there will have been another soul to add to the list. It is estimated that an attempt is made every 45 seconds. That’s close to 1 million per year. As if the stigma of suicide is not enough, an astonishing 90 percent of those who die by suicide suffer from depression of other mental illnesses which are also stigmatized even though they are often caused by abnormalities of brain biochemistry.

Kim was a family practice physician in Minneapolis who truly cared for her patients, yet lost her own battle with depression. Studies have confirmed that physicians die by suicide more frequently that others of their gender and age in both the general population and other professional occupations. In 2006, the year we lost Kim, there were 33.300 reported suicides in the US, the highest number ever recorded. Although the cause for this increase was not clear, researchers Kleman and Weissman reported an increase in the prevalence of depression in late teenagers and early adults born between 1960 and 1975 and predicted the trend would continue over their lifetimes putting them at increased risk for suicide. Kim was born in 1972.

One of the things we will do again this year on Oct 10, is participate in the fourth annual Our of the Darkness Community Walk at Long Branch Park, Liverpool, to honor Kim and others lost to suicide and to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The need to do research, reduce stigma and educate the public has never been greater! Our team is lovingly called Kim’s Krusaders and our walking and financial contribution will help the much needed work of AFSP continue. You also can make a difference by registering or donating at www.outofthedarkenss.org.

In the past, as a society, we have encouraged survivors to hide the suicide issue. However, you may have noticed a shift beginning. Legislation has has been passed to make mental health care ore accessible. Survivors seem more willing to speak out and it is rare that the late night news is not accompanied by a “depression hurts” commercial to remind us just how painful depression is. Though commercials on TV for prescription drugs to treat depression have skyrocketed since that type of advertising became allowed in 1997, research has not documented that it has had any effect on reducing the stigma associated with having such illnesses.

Contrary to popular thinking and following over a decade of these drug advertisements, researchers at the University of North Carolina found no change or shift in attitudes toward people with mental illness, particularly depression, from an attitude of some sort of moral failing or spiritual condition to one that views it as a medical condition that is treatable.

Why haven’t society’s perceptions moved forward and kept pace with medical science? How do we change Society’s perception of the loves of out loved ones because their deaths were punctuated by suicide? One thing I know for sure is that I measure Kim’s life by the amount of love and respect I have for her and all she accomplished in a much-too-short life. She helped heal the sick, but just couldn’t do it for herself. Depression doesn’t just hurt, it kills with the help of stigma.

What might help motivate society to be kinder and more helpful? If stigma can stem from negative perceptions of how we survivors view our own loss and how we think the people around us view our loss, then it is possible for survivors like me to change those perceptions through speaking out in articles such as this. But it is you, the readers of this article, who are my greatest hope for fighting stigma. It is you who can help me, one person at a time, to change our society’s misperception through education and your example.

Most importantly, if you are someone like Kim who is dealing with depression of another mental illness, reach out for help by side-stepping the stigma that may be holding you back from the help needed to feel better, Call for counseling or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK. You’ll be glad you did and you’ll help beat the stigma.

This article, writen by PFLAG member Jeanette Dippo, appeared in the Cortland Standard as part of a monthly series provided by “Think Again!” a group of volunteers interested in changing the perceptions surrounding mental illness.

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