Preventing Suicide: If You See Something, Say Something

Aug 13, 2014, 9:16 AM, Posted by Brent Thompson

Dave and Brent Dave and Brent

The second week of August is one of the worst weeks of the year for me. At least it has been since 2008.

Six years ago this week, my friend Dave decided he had enough of the daily struggles of this world and took his own life on a trailhead in the desert near Tucson, Ariz.

He was 31 years old and left behind a fiancé, family, and scores of friends who loved him deeply.

Dave was one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known: a generous soul, full of humor, creativity, compassion, and love. He had more friends than anyone I know. Dave elevated everyone who knew him, inspiring them to find joy, open their minds, chase dreams, and see beauty in the world. It is impossible to count the lives Dave changed for the better, including my own.

But, like so many other people, Dave battled mental illness. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his bipolar disorder or his depression. He didn’t care who knew about it. He felt absolutely no social stigma about his conditions. He wasn’t afraid to discuss his challenges, and in fact, often joked playfully about the flawed brain chemistry with which he was born.

Those of us who were close to Dave were lulled into complacency, because even though he had mental illnesses, he understood them and had the appropriate support systems in place to manage them.

Until he didn’t.

Unfortunately, Dave got seriously injured at his job, preventing him from working. His small employer did not support him once he couldn’t physically perform his duties. He lost his health insurance. He lost his prescription coverage, and he went off his medications.

When further financial strain hit, Dave became overwhelmed. He couldn’t see a path out of the problems he faced. Unfortunately, because Dave was such a positive outward presence, it was hard for anyone close to him to understand how much pain he was in, and how much he was suffering inside. He was just too damned joyful, at least to the outside world.

Every year at this time, I feel the deep loss. I think about his pain, what he was going through, and the methodical, deliberate way he ended his life. I usually try to reach out to his mom, to let her know that I haven’t forgotten her wonderful son.

But this year, it feels like sharing Dave’s story might help others who have a heightened awareness of suicide because of the tragic, high-profile death of Robin Williams.

So many things said in the hours following Williams’ death stuck an eerily familiar chord, making me think about Dave and about suicide in a new light.

A quick scan of just my own Twitter feed produces sentiments that are almost exactly the same as things said about Dave when he died. Some excerpts:

"He brought so much joy...” - ‪@ddiamond

"Robin Williams taught us that pain could be subdued with humor. It is only now, in his death, that I realize he couldn't do that for himself”‪@mckinneykelsey

"Robin Williams made everybody around him laugh. But maybe he couldn't hear it.”@CitizenCohn

Those are precisely the sentiments expressed about Dave when he died in 2008. And they still burn my insides today.

"Think tonight about those nearest you. Who is hurting? Reach them.” -@jmsiniff

Every time I think about Dave, I question myself. Why didn’t I pick up on the severity of the trouble he was in? If I had called him that day, could we have talked it out? While Dave was never ashamed of his illness, I believe he felt shame about his situation. Could I have done something to help him find his way through it? Those thoughts haunt me, and I know they haunt others who have lived through the suicide of a loved one.

If someone you care about is struggling, try to help, even if they put up a convincing front. Find a way to connect on a human level, in whatever way is appropriate for them. Don’t be disarmed by their fun-loving personality or their steely defense mechanisms.

Make sure you are within reach when they stumble.

And know that there is always help, even for those who don’t have friends or family they can talk to.

"Important: do not ever feel ashamed of depression. Please, if you ever feel helpless, call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.” - @HeyThereJac

Read a first-person post about depression and the best way to support those who are suffering with it

Read a post by Jane Lowe on an intervention program to prevent development of serious mental illness in young adults