Every 28 seconds someone makes a suicide attempt.
My first experience with suicide was in 1963 when I was 17. A teacher pulled me aside: “Ballard, your mother called. Your uncle killed himself this morning.” He turned around and walked off. I wanted to scream. My Uncle Ashby was my hero -- a UVA boxer, decorated vet, successful dentist, proud father of three beautiful daughters, and great athlete.
Why would he kill himself?
Since Ashby’s death, I’ve asked the question too often. A college classmate died of suicide. A neighbor I babysat had a hunting “accident” alone in the woods. A former girlfriend died of suicide. Two former employees, wonderful, sensitive, creative individuals, took their own lives.
Two siblings have attempted. Several times. I worry about them every day.
I wish I could end here, but two years ago when I was in California for the national Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention, my daughter called. My grandson, 12 at the time, was having a mental health crisis and had just entered a psychiatric hospital. We learned he’d been wrestling with demons for over a year. They were telling him he was worthless…didn’t deserve to live.
My daughter and son-in-law are two of the finest, most loving and supportive parents I have ever seen. My grandson is a boy’s boy – soccer, basketball, baseball, now Lacrosse, wrestling, and trumpet – and a good student, loved by everyone. Yet he didn’t feel life was worth living. Today, he has a good counselor and support group, and has learned survival skills. But we keep a watchful eye and listen carefully.
These are the reasons why, on June 9th, I will be on Capitol Hill meeting with Rep. Wexton and Senators Kaine and Warner to urge them to make suicide prevention a top legislative priority.
I will be asking them to support:
- Increased funding for suicide prevention research within The National Institute of Mental Health to a level commensurate with the suicide crisis in our country;
- Strengthened reporting requirements for mental health parity;
- Full funding of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline;
- Maintaining Service member and Veteran suicide prevention as a national priority.
In my meetings, I will be a voice for suicide prevention. I will be joined by passionate community leaders of the ever-growing movement of people who care about preventing suicide because they too have been affected by suicide. You can join us by calling your member of Congress and asking them to make suicide prevention the priority it deserves to be.
The writer is a resident of Great Falls, Former Chair, Suicide Prevention Action Network USA and Board Member, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.