Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Hole in the Soul that Never Heals

It’s as if it were yesterday.

I was a college freshman studying in my room when my very best friend Pam walked in. She was ashen. I asked her what was wrong. In a near-catatonic state she told me her beloved brother John, a high school sophomore, had killed himself. In that instant Pam’s world collapsed. She immediately blamed herself for being away at school when he needed her. I watched the family blame themselves and go through all the stages of grieving – yet they never fully healed.

Even now, decades later, Pam and her entire family are still suffering from that tragic choice

Judy Cushing
President and CEO
Oregon Partnership

National Action Alliance Executive Committee Membe
I had never been touched by anything like it. I decided that I wanted to do something that would help prevent other families from going through that level of devastation. It became a very personal mission.

Years later Oregon Partnership, the non-profit organization I direct, was able to add a fully certified Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Last year we received over 19,000 suicide calls to our Lifeline.

I can’t express how satisfying it is to be in our crisis line center and to overhear one of our team members help move a caller from a position of life-threatening crisis to one of safety. It’s literally life-changing. Not only are lives saved on the LifeLine, but compounded waves of tragedy and years of grief have been averted. 

Thousands of families didn’t have to go through what Pam’s did because of our skilled staff and volunteers.  The best news is that there are Lifelines all across the country quietly preventing people from taking their lives.

Suicide is the ultimate “elephant in the room” that our society doesn’t want to acknowledge or talk about.   I am so proud to be part of an initiative like the Action Alliance that is focusing on changing the way society thinks about mental illness and suicide.  I’m confident that some day we will discuss suicide and mental health issues as openly as we would discuss cancer. When suicide is moved out of the shadows of secrecy and shame – the twin enablers - we cast a bright light on it and, in so doing, foster prevention.

Suicide prevention needs to become a national priority. It must receive the level of attention and action of any other pandemic that kills people every day. The formation of the Action Alliance is a huge step in that direction. It’s an honor to serve with so many accomplished decision makers who are ready to influence national suicide policy. I’m also deeply touched by how many of my fellow committee members have been impacted by the devastation of suicide.

My personal area of emphasis on the Action Alliance is the Lifeline network across the country and Military and Veterans and their families.   An average of 18 veterans a day die by suicide in America.    We must come together to provide a safety net for them across all sectors of society.

We must take action to prevent suicide. For Pam, for John, and for all of our families.