Suicide, Stigma, and Silence

Lessons from a survivor: How to talk about suicide and why it matters.

This is my friend Barb Kozeletski. When her daughter, Hayden, took her own life while in care at a teen mental health facility, Barb chose to speak out publicly about her loss, her daughter’s life, and the problems with our mental health system.

Barb has taught me many important lessons about how to talk about suicide. The first one is simple, just talk about it. The silence around this topic is deafening for families who are grieving. People don’t know what to say so they say nothing at all. Imagine if your teenage daughter died and people didn’t even acknowledge it? With a death by suicide, well-meaning friends and acquaintances can fall silent. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that we have all been conditioned to believe that we should not discuss suicide.

This approach doesn’t work. Silence breeds more shame and stigma. If there is a death by suicide in your community, don’t let fear and the false belief that it will be awkward hold you back from speaking up. Expressing your condolences and loving support is not awkward. It is the most natural thing in the world.

Barb told me it was important to her that people use her daughter’s name, Hayden. So that she is not forgotten. I have not forgotten her. Hayden was the initial inspiration behind my own mental health advocacy. But it was my friend Barb who gave me an example of rising strong and using your own crisis in the service of others.

Her advocacy contributed to the creation of a resource guide to help families navigate mental health services and the establishment of an innovative program for youth in her community. Foundry, an innovative youth program focussed on integrated care is now open in seven BC communities. https://www.vicnews.com/life/campbell-river-local-action-team-makes-a-difference-in-addressing-mental-health-issues/

Barb taught me that in speaking up we can reclaim our power, transcend the silence and stigma surrounding suicide, and be a force for change in our community. Speaking up about suicide is not shameful. It is a form of activism. It is brave. It is loving. It is necessary.