September 30, 2011, began like any other day. I woke up, went to school, learned a new math equation, took an exam or two, and went home. But, the way the day ended will stick with me forever. That day my nineteen-year-old uncle Jaay took his life. Why did he do it? Why did we not see it coming?. My family began to question everything. We dug through all the information we could find. We needed to try and figure out why he felt so alone. But, we found no note, no explanation. All we knew was that he was gone. All we had left was the pain in our hearts.
Suicide is different than other deaths, like those caused by cancer or heart disease. There is no diagnosis, no physical illness to explain how someone died. Suicide slips in for a second and then it’s gone with no explanation. The only person who saw it coming or knows why it came is gone as well.
It took me a while to come to terms with his death. He was no longer here and there was nothing I could have done about it. Eventually though, I realized I wanted to honor his death and do something to help others. I began to research suicide statistics, warning signs, and general information. I learned that suicide is a huge epidemic, affecting millions of people all over the world every year. It is one of the top ten leading causes of death. It is the second leading cause of death for college-aged students.
Why had I never heard of this before? People don’t talk about suicide. They get uncomfortable thinking about someone taking their own life. To society as a whole, mental disorders are “personal” problems that people should “just get over”. I began to see that silence as the problem. If we begin to talk about suicide and make it a comfortable subject, then those dealing with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other major leading causes of suicide, can feel more comfortable to talk about their problems. Maybe then suicide can become more preventable.
As a Junior in High School, I started a suicide and bullying awareness and prevention program. I wanted to include bullying because it is a leading factor in suicide amongst middle school and high school students. The programs goals were to to educate students on how to prevent suicide and bullying, and teach that bullying can cause irreversible damage. I developed resources for teachers and students to use in the event that they are faced with someone who may be suicidal. I also designed classroom lessons to teach about the warning signs of suicide. Lastly, I facilitated bigger events that fostered community. As a college student now, I still strive to do all the same for my new community. One day, I plan to work for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I don’t do any of this for me. I do it all because I never want anyone to feel they way my uncle felt: alone, lost, unwanted, and scared. I never want anyone to feel like my family did after my uncle’s passing: confused, anxious, and heartbroken. These days I work hard to honor Jaay and his memory. His actions, that were so confusing and hurtful, helped me to understand how important it is to stand up and be passionate for something so unnoticed. He showed me that I, one person, can make a huge difference in my school and community today. Jaay is my inspiration to continue to take action and work to change the world tomorrow.
In the article “Our Take: Bulldog brethren always around to listen” in the University of Georgia’s newspaper, The Red & Black, Nick Watson wrote that “you never have to go at it alone…The uncomfortable conversation is worth it in the end.” My experiences and my work around suicide prevention has helped me understand how true this is.