Every time something happens to one of our friends, family, co-workers, etc., in the form of someone taking their own life, we always ask "Why?" There are a thousand different reasons someone may get to that point. As an advocate for EMS and first responder suicide prevention, I am strongly inclined to reveal the many faceted, never easy answer to this question.
I have noted many friends and co-workers over several years that we have lost to suicide have always, always shown the signs. The problem is, we are so wrapped up with our lives that someone making a statement is either ignored, not taken seriously, or screaming in silence to deaf ears, ears too self-absorbed to take a few minutes to check on a friend, co-worker, or show that they care in the least. In almost all of the instances, there has been a slap-in-the-face obvious pattern. ALL of them, looking back, were crying out, only to be unheard. With social media so prominent in everyone's lives, it's easier than ever to see what is on someone's mind, as in a friend who recently took his life... progressively aggressive, distant, off color comments, expressions of hurt, loneliness, abandonment, isolation, posting a song—that all presents a pattern. Maybe if most of us would get our heads out of places they shouldn't be, we would notice a little more. Sometimes it is there in black and white, with a direct threat of intentions of self harm, as in "I am going to kill myself." Other times, you have to read between the lines and pick up on it...
In recent years, EMS and firefighter suicides became front page news. Just like the military, we suffer cumulative stress from years on the job. Although I argue that most of the suicides are not solely based on EMS or fire department experiences alone, it plays a big factor. We cannot see people at their worst moments, be invited into someone's death, constantly run on no sleep, lack of rest, lack of food, and deal with the absolute worst situations and be unaffected. Many calls have caused me nightmares. Some, even from 20 years ago, still haunt me. Nightmares, insomnia, replaying events, and being in a constant state of fight or flight wreaks havoc on the body.
We also have daily lives to deal with away from the ambulance, fire truck, police cruiser, etc. Financial burdens, tasks left unfinished, much cherished days off spent cleaning to catch up on everything left unfinished, some with legal or family trouble, others over-extended like myself, working a full time job, caring for an ailing aging parent, while my own 27-year-old struggles with heroin addiction. You become a constant stress case. You feel trapped. You don't know what move to make next, and always fear it will be the wrong one. You dread it every time the phone rings.
We forget that in our own lives, we need to care for ourselves, too. When you ask, the next time you hear of someone's suicide, "Why?" "How could he/she take their own life?" let me tell you... you always think you are strong. You shoulder the weight, you spread yourself thin over time and situations, and you ultimately lose all coping mechanisms. When I say I AM that statistic, I am saying: I AM the paramedic who just had a baby die in my arms. I AM the daughter Mom abandoned and didn't want. I AM the sister who is good enough to be an ATM, a taxi, and a free place to live, but not good enough to be invited to family gatherings. I AM dealing with my own health issues as I get older. I AM the mother of two young men, one struggling with relationships, drug addiction, and legal issues. I AM the employee the boss calls every time there is a call off. I AM the housekeeper, dog walker, car washer, cook, laundry aide, and personal taxi. I AM the one who cries alone in my room at night because I am so overwhelmed. I AM the one who is getting punched in the face and called names by my 80-year-old father with Alzheimer's. I am the one who has to think of a reason every day not to put the barrel of a pistol in my mouth. I am the one feeling alone, without a friend in the world on most days. I AM the one people call every day because they need help, or money, or advice. I AM the one responsible to keep up my certifications, attend classes, and attend to my requirements, while juggling everyone else's appointments. I AM the one with no one to talk to. I AM the one feeling like I want to explode. I AM the one who can't bear being around people and going out to socialize. I AM... the one who wants to end it all.
If you happen to notice someone acting out of character, with new moodiness, mood swings, anger, sadness, or passive-aggressive statements, don't brush it off or get mad. A simple "This isn't like you. What's the deal?" could be the opening of the door into the mind of someone who is suffering in silence. Pay attention. Is someone giving away prized possessions, saying goodbye as if it is final, or asking for forgiveness? Have you noticed a sudden change from them being extremely agitated, to suddenly at peace with themselves and situations? RED FLAG. Don't walk away thinking they are fine. SO many resources exist for help. We just need to open our eyes, pay attention, and listen to the people we love.
I AM that statistic. I AM the one feeling down. I AM the one someone reached out to, to be a friend. I AM the one who got help. I AM the one working on myself. I AM realizing that I am enough. I AM... still here.