September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It is important that we take this opportunity to shed light on the very serious issue of suicide. We need to be aware of the warning signs and risks so that suicide can be prevented and people can receive the assistance that they need.
Unfortunately, suicide prevention is an extremely important topic for the MS community since so many of us suffer with depression. In fact, according to the National MS Society, depression is “one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis” and “one study found that the risk of suicide was 7.5 times higher among persons with MS than the general population.” That statistic absolutely breaks my heart and I firmly believe that we can take steps to prevent suicide from happening.
I’ve written before about my struggles with depression, and even touched on the fact that I actually had contemplated suicide at an extremely low point after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I used to be ashamed and embarrassed about having had suicidal feelings, as if it made me a weaker person. In fact, it still makes me uncomfortable to even write about how I actually considered taking my own life. It seems like such a taboo subject but hopefully by further exposing suicide, we can raise more awareness and be proactive in preventing it.
It does feel a bit liberating to outwardly admit that I had suicidal thoughts. Up until now, only a couple close family members ever knew. Admitting that I had these thoughts is releasing something from deep down inside of me that I’ve held onto for quite some time. It makes me realize how far I’ve come and how thankful I am that I did see the forest through the trees, and realize that I needed help. Suicide is definitely not the solution, and there are people out there who can assist and who understand.
I would never want anyone to go through these feelings but I can totally understand how you could reach that point. In reality, being diagnosed with MS and then living with MS, can sometimes bring with it emotional turmoil. It can seem overwhelming but no one should ever feel alone, and no one should be embarrassed to admit that they deal with mental health issues, especially when a large number of people living with MS deal with depression on a regular basis.
I feel like the mental health component of multiple sclerosis has been gaining more focus and attention but I also think that there is still a lot that needs to be done. I’m not sure if things have changed since I was diagnosed in 2003 but there didn’t seem to be a screening for mental health problems, and there was definitely no talk about the possibility of issues I may face in the future. I feel as if there should be more screening and regular mental health check-ins with patients, especially in the months following a diagnosis.
My hope is that by addressing mental health issues and suicide, we can raise awareness and erase any stigma. Ultimately, we should support each other and focus on getting people the help they need.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out. Always know that you are never alone and that there is always someone to listen and who understands what you’re going through. Life is a precious gift and definitely worth living.
Please see the following resources from the National Alliance on Mental Illness website:
- Know the Warning Signs and Risk of Suicide
- Preventing Suicide as a Family Member or Caregiver
- Being Prepared for a Crisis
- Need more information, referrals or support? Contact the NAMI HelpLine.