Content warning - suicide
There are situations few and far between where words will give me complete and total recall to a situation, feeling, or event. But unfortunately, during COVID-19 and all the public health precautions, a simple phrase generally used to check in on friends and loved ones has unintended consequences for me.
I fully understand that there is no sinister motive in using these otherwise innocuous words grouped together, but it’s a reason why I am a stickler for pronouns, preferred names, and other contextual phrases.
Since 2015, there have been 2,658 deaths by suicide in Cook County, the county in which Chicago resides*. Approximately 890 of those deaths have been by hanging. That is also the method that my cousin chose to end his life in the summer of 2008. Throughout this worldwide pandemic, I have seen the words “hanging in there” scroll across my screen multiple times a day. Each and every time I hear that phrase, I am taken back to that loss. The first loss by suicide in my life where I knew what it meant, where I knew there was more to life than anything I thought I knew at that point. Prior to that night, I had lost previous family members to suicide, but I was too young to fully grasp the concept of all the implications.
The momentary pause my brain makes to translate “hanging in there” to “hope you are doing well” or “hope you are handling everything okay” seems infinitesimally small, but it’s also the same amount of time it takes to self-correct from saying “committed suicide” or “killed him/herself” to “died by suicide” or “ended their life”. Now I am not saying that these two scenarios are on the same level, but both of these scenarios play in my mind everyday. The work we do to choose our words wisely implicitly helps to break the stigma around mental health and suicide with every sentence that is spoken from our mouths or typed by our fingers.
I have found myself at a loss for words most of the time these days, with my brain constantly thrashing between work tasks, family tasks, and what my mind & body need in that moment. Often, all of them at odds with one another. If we are able to take that momentary pause before we speak to think about the words we are saying and how they can and will be received, we can make it through this together much easier. We can make the conversations that are taking that much more effort and draining our emotional tanks that much more than ever a little bit easier, softer, and more of what we need.
In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
Additionally, during the introduction of every podcast episode, we call out the excellent resources indexed by Hope for the Day and To Write Love On Her Arms on their respective Find Help pages, giving you access to localized and targeted resources for whatever you may need in the moment (or to share with loved ones who may need the help as well). They can be found at Hope for the Day - Find Help and To Write Love On Her Arms - Find Help.