Next week I'm off to Washington, D.C. for the Annual Advocacy Summit of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We'll be meeting people from all over the country, learning a lot, and spending Thursday on Capitol Hill meeting with our senators and representatives. (I agreed to co-ordinate the scheduling of that effort. We have eighteen of 'em, in five different buildings, and six of us from all over the state. Remind me not to do that again.)
We were asked to supply "vignettes" for the packets we'll be delivering to the Hill. Here's mine:
The photo was taken on the morning he graduated from college. Honors at the University of Chicago. A beautiful girlfriend and a great circle of friends. A job and a new apartment lined up. Nothing could have prepared us for the fact that one and one-half years later he would be gone.
Our son, Josh Williams, was a patient and loving brother to his twin brother and their younger sister. He had always been ready for adventure – all-day kindergarten; summer camp in North Carolina, 600 miles from home; his full junior year of high school spent in France; a college road trip to Idaho and back over a holiday week-end. He enjoyed photography and played soccer; he canoed in Canada with his grandfather and visited Montreal with his French brother and lots of Europe with his twin brother. His loved his whole extended family and looked forward to creating one of his own.
We saw no signs. In retrospect they were there, and we were to learn, when it was too late, that he had probably been suffering from a serious and desperate depression for at least the last couple of years of his life. Unrecognized, unacknowledged, untreated. Depression is a vicious, deadly illness, and yet is so easily concealed by those determined to do so, by those who do not realize that their lives are in jeopardy.
I never planned to become a suicide prevention advocate. How could you prevent something you had no idea was headed your way? But as the years have passed, I have learned that much might have been done to alert us and our son to the danger he was in, to address his illness, and perhaps to save him to become the husband, father, and multi-gifted contributor to the world whom we had imagined he was becoming. To continue his life as our beloved and treasured son.
The turning point for me came when I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years after Josh died. I quickly saw that, whenever I mentioned my diagnosis, other women would step forward with support, encouragement, advice, and every possible kind of help – whereas, if I mention that my son died of suicide, I can clear room in a matter of seconds. The topic of suicide, I saw, occupied the position that breast cancer had when I was a girl: stigmatized, unmentioned, poorly researched or understood, little publicized.
THIS.MUST.STOP. We cannot continue to allow individuals to suffer such despair that death seems preferable to life. We cannot continue to allow the lives of families and friends to be altered beyond recognition by unnecessary deaths by suicide. We must find ways to identify and care for those whose lives are threatened by mental illness and other forms of anguish. We must fund the research and the treatment and the education programs that will end this terrible scourge. We must bring this subject out of the darkness and into the light, and end the suffering that leads to suicide and the suffering caused by suicide.