Written by Wendy Sefcik
Worldwide 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That accounts for one suicide death every 40 seconds. And for each of those deaths families, friends and in some cases entire communities are left shattered and reeling.
I never thought much about suicide. I knew what it was, of course, but I didn’t think it pertained to my life or me so I didn’t put much energy towards learning about it or thinking about it. Then on December 1, 2010 my beautiful, amazing, 16-year-old son T.J. died by suicide. T.J. was an out-going, funny, kind, intelligent, sensitive, athletic boy – always quick to laugh and smile and give hugs. Sadly, he also battled depression, but kept it well hidden from most everyone.
My entire world was turned upside down. When you lose a child there are no words that can adequately describe the pain that rocks you to the core of your very being. And when that death is due to suicide there is yet another layer of pain. How could a child that you loved and cherished feel so much pain that he could make a decision to take his own life? How could I have failed my son to the point that he could do this? Why? How? The questions kept coming. The torrent of pain engulfed me and yet, the sun continued to rise and set and my greatest fear became my new reality. One of my children had died.
Since losing T.J. I’ve immersed myself in learning all that I can about suicide in the hopes of sharing what I learn to prevent other lives from being lost in this horrendous manner. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. Over 90% of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable, treatable, mental health condition at the time of their death that may or may not have been diagnosed and properly treated. Many who suffer from mental health conditions like depression try to hide their illness because of the stigma attached to mental health disorders. That stigma is one of the biggest barriers to individuals seeking treatment and therefore factors heavily into suicide. So, reducing stigma associated with mental health conditions is a critical step to reducing suicide.
Parents need to understand that mental health conditions – like depression and anxiety – are common and not be too quick to brush off certain behaviors as typical teen behavior. We were an average, upper-middle class family—2 parents, 3 kids and a dog. While not perfect, we enjoyed life and believed we were blessed and happy, until depression entered our lives. We didn’t understand what depression in teens looked like. We saw a boy who was becoming increasingly irritable in the home and testing the boundaries we had set. Many people told us, he was just being a teenager. But I felt in my gut that it was something more. We tried to get him help, but it wasn’t easy and things quickly spiraled out of control. Before we really knew what we were dealing with T.J. was gone.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24.
Conditions like depression and anxiety can contribute to suicide risk and can impact any family. 1 in 4 people in the United States will struggle with a mental health condition in any given year making it very likely we all know someone in our family or circle of friends who struggles in some way.
T.J.’s death has left me fractured and brokenhearted, but it’s also left me with a will to help others from suffering this same fate. We all need to do what we can to help the many people out there who are suffering. We need to let them to know they are not alone and that help is available. The best way to do this is by raising awareness through education. We all worry about our physical health, but our mental health is just as important. Let’s all try to be smarter about it.
Wendy is the Founder and Presenter of Remembering T.J.