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The Journal Gazette

  • Emily Boller

Sunday, September 08, 2019 1:00 am

Network eases pain, stigma for suicide families

Emily Boller

Resources

To learn more about suicide prevention, visit LookUpIndiana.org.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255.

Pastors, church leaders, community leaders or lay people are welcome to attend the Look Up Conference on Oct. 7 at the Grand Wayne Center. Kay Warren and other experts will be equipping northeast Indiana so that no one in this region will have to suffer alone. For more information, visit lookupconference.org.

To download Emily Boller's free pamphlet on how to help families in the aftermath of a suicide, go to www.emilyboller.com/bio and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click on "When Someone Dies by Suicide."

On Memorial Day 2012, my 17-year-old daughter and I were last in line to board a flight out of Fort Wayne when suddenly my phone vibrated. It was my husband, Kurt. Since he had just dropped us off at the airport, I knew the call must've been urgent, so I stepped aside and answered it.

“Emily, the police are here and Daniel is dead.”

I learned that our 21-year old son had died by suicide earlier that morning. In that moment, I was inducted into a special club of suicide loss survivors – a club I never signed up for and nobody ever signs up for.

With this being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the past seven years have certainly given me some opinions on the topic.

But before I share more of my story, did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate has increased by 30% in the past 20 years? More than 41,000 individuals die by suicide each year in the U.S.; plus, there are an additional 500,000 suicide attempts (although the numbers are much higher because of misreporting). Suicides have become a leading cause of death nationwide.

In addition, according to the Indiana Department of Health, the suicide rate is up by nearly 32% in our state. There are more than twice as many suicides as homicides in Indiana and, unfortunately, it's the second-leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 34.

For every suicide, there's a family left behind to navigate the tragedy and profound loss. Daniel left his parents and four siblings in the prime of their junior high, high school and post-college years.

The shame and stigma of the suicide propelled me into hiding. A committed churchgoer since childhood, I quit attending as a result of that shame. I thought, “What kind of mother raises a child to take his own life?” – not fully realizing at that time a suicide is no one's fault.

The brain can become sick or injured just like any other organ of the body. However, the big difference is that casseroles are typically donated to individuals undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer, while individuals suffering from depression and/or other mental illnesses are usually left to suffer alone.

My isolation, resulting from the shame and stigma, fueled my own hopelessness and despair. One night, the suffocating oppression became so overwhelming that I called a suicide prevention helpline for myself. I knew I could never put my family through another traumatic suicide loss. I didn't want to die; I just wanted the pain to end.

My healing began when I attended The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, hosted by Rick and Kay Warren at their church in California. The Warrens had also lost a son to suicide – just 10 months after Daniel died.

I finally felt like someone understood. At that conference, I learned that 5% to 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu in any given year, and 27% experience some degree of mental illness in any given year. And of that percentage, 5% become disabled by it. I also learned that the brain is capable of healing in a loving community of acceptance and support, but that it gets worse in isolation.

Thankfully, I reached out for help – and accepted that help.

Over time, I got better and eventually healed.

Today, I speak out, because suicide is never a solution. It only creates years of ongoing pain and suffering for loved ones and friends left behind.

Emily Boller, a Fort Wayne resident, is the author of “Starved to Obesity: My Journey Out of Food Addiction and How You Can Escape It Too!” (Post Hill Press, 2019).