I WAS so heartbroken when I heard of the eight suicides at the University of Maryland within the last year. It was a year ago that my own sister took her own life.
Until a person has experienced the loss of a family member or friend due to suicide, no one can really imagine the pain and heartache that one goes through. The feeling of guilt, confusion and anguish can be overwhelming. You continuously ask yourself, "What could I have done to prevent this?"
Suicide is a topic that most people don't want to talk about. Yet we must confront this problem. We must love and listen more to our children, family and friends, never with the thought that this can't happen in my family. It can. I know. The signs are almost always there, but we must learn what they are.
We should incorporate information on suicide into the curriculum in the schools, beginning in middle school. The earlier the students receive this information, the sooner they can assimilate it. The axiom "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has never been more applicable. More funds are needed for research so that proper care can be given to our loved ones in need.
My sister was only 28 years old. After an attempted suicide, she was placed in a psychiatric hospital. She had been drinking, and it appeared the treatment emphasis was on the alcohol problem, not the suicide attempt. After seven days, she was released from the hospital by a resident doctor after she told him she would not take her own life.
She was then to be placed in an out-patient program at the same hospital to help her along, but when she went to sign in, she was not accepted into the program. Her insurance company would pay only half of the cost, and she would be charged for the rest. She did not have the money, so she was not accepted. How sad that we put money in front of everything!
Two weeks later, my sister shot herself in the chest, then climbed up six steps, apparently realizing that she had made a mistake. It was too late. She fell back the entire flight of stairs and died alone. She was not found until the next day. She had been crying out for help for years, as she did the day she shot herself, but due to our family's and society's lack of understanding about mental illness, another person was lost to suicide.
When an error in judgment is made by a medical professional, the ramifications of that error are felt by many. I do not believe that my sister wanted to die, but the actual suicide, this time, was her final cry to help.
I do hope that we can learn to talk about suicide and not ignore it and sweep it under the carpet after it happens, as I did until I was confronted with my sister's death. We must deal with it through funding and education.
There are many support groups to help family and friends deal with their problems and how to confront the issue before it is too late. Here is a list of groups that have helped me as and thousands of others:
On Our Own (mutual support group for people with psychiatric disabilities): 488-4480.
Alliance for the Mentally Ill: 539-0525.
12-Step Programs for Adult Children: 467-0839.
SEASONS (survivors of suicide): 882-2937.
Lisa Hurka-Covington writes from Baltimore.