The conversation about the stigma of mental health illnesses and the changes that are necessary to support those suffering has increased. But I’ve observed that the stigma is so profound that people still avoid the conversation about my sister’s loss with me and there are those that are critical of me for speaking out and fighting for change.
For family, the trauma of losing someone to suicide is an ongoing battle.
This year, as I planned to participate in the “AFSP’s Out of Darkness Overnight Walk“ in Washington DC on June 3, my daughters Kirstie and Anna and granddaughter Meghan announced they were joining me.
It’s a 16 mile walk from dusk to dawn with a community that understands those affected by suicide. The story my granddaughter wrote made me aware of the effect my sister’s death had on the entire family.
Even though Sharon had been struggling for 2 years, we never expected her life to end, and we were so focused on her that I didn’t realize how it was affecting the entire family until they started sharing their experiences.
Meghan wrote a story from her experience as a 5-year-old child. “I remember after she died by suicide, watching my family’s heart break. Even at a young age, I knew everything had changed. I am walking because I believe everyone has a purpose in this world and is meant to be here. I’ve seen kids at school struggle when life gets rough. Being a teenager is hard, life is so stressful, experiencing my schoolmates ending their lives, really hurts because they mattered. I am walking to show my peers that they are allowed to feel how I feel”
I am not ashamed to share that after my sister’s loss, I suffered with depression, panic and anxiety disorder and PTSD. Does that make me crazy? The grieving process of losing someone to a nightmare suicide death takes time to recover. But being judged for having the strength to share my experience to help other families is wrong. Working with a therapist, I started to recover by redirecting my feelings to advocating and fighting for policies to remove the stigma of mental health disorders. I participate in the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walks to raise funds to protect our loved ones.
Conversations on removing the stigma of mental health disorders are necessary, but until we reflect on personally approaching the issue, there will be no change. There still exist those who are trying to silence me; and while I’ve been dealing with stress and fear because of them, I’ve decided to fight back and not be quiet.
Written by: Marsha Grilli