Opinion: Suicide is an epidemic with disastrous, painful effects

Tom Watkins

Please don’t take your own life. 

If you believe that today is the worst day of your life, by definition tomorrow will be better. 

People care and are there to help you navigate the feeling that it can’t and won’t get better. With love, support and professional help, there is a better tomorrow. 

Reach out to family members, colleagues and friends struggling, especially during this time of COVID-19 that has exasperated the feelings of hopelessness, loneliness and depression. 

If you believe that today is the worst day of your life, by definition tomorrow will be better, Watkins writes.

Suicide is an epidemic in this state and the nation and requires awareness and resources to address. 

Suicide killed more than 48,000 Americans in 2018. That is about 132 deaths by suicide a day, or one every 11 minutes or so.

Mental illness and stigma that often prevents people from seeking help does not impact “those” people. It is not simply a statistic to recite. It impacts our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. It hurts us all.

In partnership with Detroit Public TV, the 5th annual conference on suicide prevention begins Thursday. The conference, Kevin’s Song, is a way to focus our attention and to continue a crucial conversation to help the community provide support for people who are at risk. 

To be clear, suicide skips no zip code. It is an equal opportunity public health crisis that snuffs out promising lives and leaves a hole in heart of family members and friends left behind.

I know the pain — not simply as a professional social worker or as a former state of Michigan mental health director or the former leader of the Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health Network — but as a brother.

My older and younger brothers suffering depression and substance use disorders both took their own lives and shook my world and all people who love them to the core. That pain does not go away.

Suicide is godawful. It snuffs out precious life and leaves a wake of agony. I can’t fully comprehend why my brothers took their own lives. I and others they left behind will never fully know. We do know that it is tragic, sad and we must do more to prevent it. 

I have witnessed, through my brothers’ struggles, the joys when they were ready for help and the system was there to help them. I have also felt the pain as their disease prevented them from availing themselves to help — or worse yet, when a bureaucratic, underfunded system let them down. When the system is not available to help the result is tragic and everlasting.

As a society, we need to better educate people that help is available, provide resources to augment the anemic budgets and minimal state support for quality public community behavioral health services, and help eradicate stigma that prevents people from seeking help.

Tom Watkins

Save the National Suicide Lifeline number (800-273-8255) and share it with your circle of friends and colleagues so that everyone knows where to turn if they or someone they love are so desperate, distraught or ill that they are contemplating taking their own life.

Suicide and the pain it leaves behind is forever. 

Kevin’s Song is dedicated to generating public awareness about the causes of suicide, its prevalence in our society and possible preventive measures.

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director.