Editor’s note: Alissa Paolella serves as secretary for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties. A longtime mental health advocate and former journalist, Alissa has served on the local NAMI board of trustees since 2016, representing Wyandot County. She openly shares her mental health journey in an effort to reduce stigma and remind others who are struggling that they are not alone, and recovery is possible.
Struggling? You Are Not Alone.
If we’re going to prevent suicide, we need to start talking about it.
Every September, NAMI recognizes National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, an effort to share resources and stories to shed light on a highly stigmatized topic. Some people won’t even utter the word “suicide.” It’s uncomfortable. It reminds humans of our own mortality, of loss of hope and of despair. Those who have lost a loved one to suicide often feel isolated and alone. It’s a hard topic. But, as Glennon Doyle reminds us:
“We can do hard things.”
I would add that we must.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide was on the rise in the U.S. According to NAMI, the overall suicide rate in this nation has increased by 31 percent since 2001. The following are additional alarming statistics:
- Suicide is the second-leading cause of death of people ages 10-34 and the fourth-leading cause for those ages 35-54.
- Less than half — 46 percent — of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
- Suicide touches people across all demographics — various education levels and professions, ethnic minorities, men, women and nonbinary people, those who are financially rich and poor. You probably know someone who has died by or survived suicide.
Using Your Voice for Good
Since I began sharing openly about my own suicidal ideation again in 2018, many friends have reacted strongly to information about passive suicidal ideation. Some believe, erroneously, that if you don’t have a plan with immediate intent, you’re not in danger. But passive suicidal ideation means you wish to die. You may think, “My family would be better off without me.” Spoiler alert — they won’t. That’s your mental illness lying to you.
“This terminology would have been so helpful to me a few years ago,” one friend said. Another shared, “I’ve felt passive suicidal ideation, but never had a plan, so I didn’t think it was serious.”
My first question is always, “Are you safe?” followed by, “Would you be open to learning coping skills in therapy with a qualified counselor?” I tell them that counseling is difficult — one of the most difficult things you will ever do for yourself — but necessary. I truly believe everyone can benefit from therapy at some point in their lives. Because as cliche as it may sound, the saying is true — treatment works and people recover.
You may never be cured, but with the right support, you can learn to cope with mental health conditions. And then you can share your story with others, opening the conversation in your own family and community so other people will feel less alone. I’ve learned that using one’s voice is vital to recovery. Your story matters. Your voice matters. You can make a difference in someone else’s life.
I don’t know anything more life-giving than that.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call the NAMI helpline at 800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741. For local resources and support for individuals living with mental health conditions and their loved ones, call 419-334-8021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.