Suicide Awareness by Heidi Swapp

2015 feels like a million years ago. I guess it’s because that’s when my whole world was changed completely in a way that I would have NEVER imagined. On July 9th, my 16 year old son, my second oldest of 5 children, made the decision to end his own life by suicide. Complete shock does not even begin to describe how I felt. 

Whether it be ignorance, or optimism… I just didn’t even know anything about suicide. Sure, I had known a few stories of people that had ended their lives; all  of which I carried a certain critical judgement that was completely based on zero facts, 100% lack of understanding or compassion. So when suicide became a reality in my own family with my own beautiful, funny, charismatic, charming, athletic, life-of-the-party, best-smile-award winning, high school sophomore, newly drivers-licensed son…  I was completely devastated and everything I believed about my family, my parenting and life as I knew it, was shattered. 

That’s what suicide does: Questions; and that have no answers. Suicide is complicated, devastating, scary, stigmatized, shameful, misunderstood, irreversible and no one is immune.  I have learned that it’s never one thing that pushes someone to this last-resort-decision, it’s more like 100 things knotted into a messy, heavy, seemingly impossible and un-fixable circumstance that may only be evident to the individual suffering, often in silence. 

When Cory passed away and the questions were infesting my every waking thought. I read everything on “suicide prevention” I could find. I wanted to know what I missed; what I could have done different… I wanted to know why this had happened. Article after article taught solutions that I didn’t believe would have helped me or Cory. More questions. More shame. More helpless feelings. I needed help, therapy, perspective, understanding, comfort… and I didn’t know where to find it, or what to do to help other moms, kids, families who were in my situation, and reaching out to me for support. Cory’s death opened me to pain and suffering that I just didn’t even know existed all around me. I was SO not alone.

There are so many things I could write here about what I have learned, what brought me and my family comfort, where I found strength and support, how I have changed as a wife, mother, friend…. I could go on and on listing the millions of ways Cory’s death by suicide has impacted my life, but instead I want to share something simple and clear that you can teach and discuss with any and everyone in your life to open important conversations and disrupt negative thought patterns; as well as a couple ways to take action!

Let’s talk about 2 very powerful lies that somehow find their way into our minds, and if they are not EXPOSED and clearly marked as the vicious lies that they are … they can easily become part of our own personal belief systems.  They are dangerous because sometimes these lies can have ‘perceived evidence’ attached which will reinforce what we believe to be true. 
Here are the lies:

  1. I DO NOT MATTER. 
  2. NO ONE CARES ABOUT ME. 

We have all felt these thoughts at one time or another. When we are down, sad, lonely, hurt, failed at something, made a mistake, regretful or disappointed… these thoughts are even MORE believable, and if allowed to become full time residents in our brain, they become the foundation other thoughts are build on.  This becomes a very dark, damaging and painful reality… that just isn’t real. It’s LIES. 

So what can we do as parents, friends, co-workers, teachers, coaches, family…. We can HELP in two ways: first we can expose these lies and help EDUCATE those we love who may not realize they are being lied to inside our own brains.  Second, we can actively and repeatedly de-bunk the lies with TRUTH:  YOU MATTER. YOU ARE LOVED. Over and over and over. 

The de-bunking process is not always easy; especially when someone has layers build on the false belief system. Here are 3 things you can do consistently to work and provide evidence contrary to the lies and reinforce what is actually true: 

  1. “YOU MATTER TO ME”:  Let that person know that you care what’s going on in their life by initiating interest and interaction with them that is personal and meaningful.  (not just a “How’s it going”).  Take time to learn and know specifics about their life, interests, hobbies, actives so you can have real conversations. 
  2. LISTEN to their stories. And then rather than lecturing, correcting, advising right off the bat… acknowledge their feelings and challenges. Look at the situation from their  perspective and RELATE, and validate how they are feeling.  Then, either wait for them to ask for advise, OR ask them if they want it before giving it!
  3. SAY “I LOVE YOU” (often of course!) AND, follow it up with evidence of why you love them, what you love about them, things they have done that impresses you, characteristics or talents/capabilities that you admire about them.  Notice their goodness and remind them of it. A LOT.

Suicide prevention starts at the beginning of everyday, over and over. It’s in the real connection that we intentionally make with those whom we love and serve. Connection requires effort and openness. It happens in small and simple daily reinforcements inside our relationships with those who we love most.  The more we practice these little  efforts, the stronger our relationships become. It’s the strength and authenticity of our relationships that is the real, actual suicide prevention! And that is something we can all do everyday! 

I am the co-host of a podcast all about improving the relationships that are the most important to us. “LIGHT THE FIGHT” podcast is just over 3 years old. I started it with Cory’s therapist, David Kozlowski, who has helped me and my family as we have walked this difficult path. I believe that the most important work we can do is improve the relationships in our lives. There is so much good, helpful information there. Don’t wait until you have a crisis. Start now working to improve YOU first!  

Sending you all the love as you support those who YOU love! AND thank you for helping ‘light the fight’ by reading this!

Heidi Swapp 

According to the CDC, between 2010 and 2018, the rate of youth suicide in the United States increased by 60%.* Learn about Troomi’s mission to provide families with safe technology solutions designed to help curb this tragic trend among young people.

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