KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – September is Suicide Awareness Month. A month dedicated to raising awareness on the efforts to lower suicide rates in our country.
Eight years ago, I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to this. I had just been struck by, so far, the biggest heartbreak of my life: losing my brother.
Growing up, my three brothers and I had an average childhood. While the two oldest naturally bonded the most, my little brother Jonathan and I grew closer and closer, having common friends and often hanging out together.
We had so much fun! Until, that is, it wasn’t fun anymore.
Depression started kicking in for my brother when he was around 14 years old. He started talking to some psychologists and later was prescribed medication to help him deal with his personal issues. Soon, those weren’t enough either. Jonathan started drinking and resorted to using illegal drugs just to be able to cope with everyday life.
Something had happened within him, but he wouldn’t talk about it. Every time we thought he was making progress, things would fall back to worse than before. It felt like he was moving two steps forward, three steps back.
I remember once having a long conversation with him, and getting to a point where I thought he would TALK to me, open his heart and finally tell me what the root cause of his internal pain was... but he closed up like a fan, got angry at himself and walked away, mumbling the words, ”I just can’t…” I found him passed out drunk just a few hours later, and the day after it was like that conversation never happened.
I will never forget the day I received the call from our oldest brother, announcing that Jonathan had been found unconscious in the streets and taken to the emergency room in a coma. They didn’t know if he would ever wake up.
After spending nine long months in a vegetative state, he passed away on his 30th birthday. I remember falling to my knees and crying so hard. The pain was too much, I felt like I failed him. My little brother was gone for good. It took me over an hour to collect myself enough to be able to call my parents and let them know.
I don’t know if Jonathan ever truly understood how loved he was. He left an empty spot in our hearts that hurts as much today as it did back then.
Every year, since finding out September is Suicide Awareness Month, I have been thinking about ways to help other people know they are not alone.
According to the World Health Organization website, “By creating hope through action, we can signal to people experiencing suicidal thoughts that there is hope and that we care and want to support them. It also suggests that our actions, no matter how big or small, may provide hope to those who are struggling.”
The U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Army Substance Abuse Program produced a play called “Second Chance,” a theatrical suicide prevention training conducted by Soldiers and Airmen that highlights how life’s events can suddenly turn into risk factors leading to Suicide. The play outlines a service member’s emotional battle as he struggles with suicide. If you haven’t had the chance to go see it, I highly recommend you do – the final shows are in Baumholder at the Wagon Wheel Theater on Sept. 25 and 27.
Life can be hard, dealing with it can be overwhelming, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. After every storm, the sunshine always comes back, sometimes even more beautifully – as a rainbow.
Just keep fighting. Even when you feel like you are exhausted – keep going. And know that it’s completely ok to ask for help. Suicidal thoughts are a sign of extreme distress, and sometimes, just sharing your feelings with a trusted person can make all the difference.
There are so many people who love you and are willing to stay with you every step of the way.
You are not alone.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7.