Suicide in our communtiy: Breaking the cycle of silence
After Grand Junction resident Carrie Pell’s father died of suicide when she was 13, numerous people told her to keep his cause of death quiet.
“It was one of those things they didn’t want attached to him forever. They wanted the memory to be only good memories. But if someone dies by car wreck, you don’t hide that,” Pell said.
When Pell’s younger brother, 33-year-old Allen Nation of Grand Junction, died by suicide on March 25, she didn’t want the stigma so many people attached to her father’s death to be imposed on his six children.
“After my brother died, I got to thinking, I was never ashamed of him when he was alive, ever. He was a wonderful person. So why should I feel ashamed of how he died?” she said.
Pell, 37, believes hiding how her brother, her father, a school friend, a friend of her sister and a teenage friend of her son all died perpetuates the cycle of silence surrounding suicide and its frequent companions, mental illness and depression.
Feeling no shame about his cause of death is not an endorsement of suicide. It’s a way to call attention to its causes and, hopefully, raise awareness to help others prevent suicide. Pell’s aunt explained it this way — cancer is a disease and it’s socially acceptable for a person to have cancer or die from cancer. Depression and mental illness are diseases, too, Pell said, but some people think they are simply conditions “you should be able to get over on your own.” The result is people working hard to defeat depression by themselves.
“A lot of people don’t want to talk about mental illness or depression. They don’t want to be that ‘crazy’ person,” she said, so they don’t seek help.
Since opening up about suicide, Pell said she has been surprised how many of her colleagues have approached her and said they are or were suicidal or know someone who is.
“It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or any less normal. It’s actually pretty common. Other people are going through it,” she said.
Pell said her brother didn’t often act depressed, but she knows it runs in her family. He also was experiencing marital trouble and was away from his family and friends for three weeks at a time for his oil and gas industry job. He came home from work a week and a half early and sent his kids to visit family. Pell found out later he contacted old friends before his death to check in on them, something she said can be a sign someone is considering suicide.
His death came as a shock to her because he talked about going on a family vacation the day before his suicide. Plus, he had been the positive sibling, always trying to hold the family together.
Pell organized a suicide awareness walk earlier this month in hopes of encouraging people who are contemplating suicide to talk to someone and get help. She also wanted to give survivors like her an outlet to talk about their loss.
“It doesn’t ever go away,” she said of the pain of losing a loved one. “You learn to cope. People are willing to listen.”