Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Before I write anything else, I want to say how profoundly sorry I am if suicide has taken someone you love. And if you are struggling with finding a reason to live, please believe that hope and help are real. Keep living, friend.
There’s a good chance you have lost someone to suicide, or know someone who has.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), almost 43,000 Americans take their own lives each year. And for every one death by suicide, there are 25 others who attempt.
These stats are especially painful to me when I consider that suicide is the second leading cause of death in postpartum women. Not just women who were already diagnosed with a mental illness. But second for all postpartum women. Let that sink in.
In the past few weeks, I’ve read three different stories that left me aching, and wondering how and when this stops.
These stories were of mamas, not too different from you and me.
They wanted to be good parents, to enjoy motherhood, to give their children a happy home.
But instead, they were terrified to be alive.
They were deeply depressed, choked with anxiety, and unable to reconcile their misery with the happiness they were “supposed” to be feeling.
They were mamas who were suffering unbearable anguish of mind and soul. And they didn’t know how to get help.
They couldn’t shut out the lie that constantly whispered to them, You are not enough. The world is better off without you. Life is not worth living. And so they left.
And they left behind children, husbands, parents, and friends, many of whom would have never anticipated this.
From the outside, we might be tempted to judge these mamas.
How could a woman with a beautiful existence take her own life? She had the children she always wanted, a loving husband, and a comfortable home — what did she have to be unhappy about?
We want to make sense of tragedy, but this way of thinking is naive at best; at worst, it is a catalyst for perpetuating the stigma that surrounds maternal mental illness.
Because the truth is, no matter how picture-perfect — or destitute — a mother’s circumstances, no woman is immune to postpartum mental distress.
According to Postpartum Support International, “women of every culture, age, income level, and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.”
PPD, like cancer, doesn’t discriminate.
So how does suicide become the second leading cause of death in postpartum women?
The AFSP website offers this insight:
Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated.
Postpartum depression (PPD) and other maternal mental health problems affect an astounding 15-20% of women, and some estimate that the actual number is much higher. Many of these mamas are undiagnosed, suffering beneath the radar of their health professionals, friends, and even family members.
We all know that parenting is hard. But for someone who has a mental illness, it can be brutal (ask me how I know).
If a woman has PPD, all the normal stress that comes with motherhood seems heavier, more overwhelming, and even impossible to handle. Add in the sleep-deprivation that’s the hallmark of life with an infant, and it can be a perfect storm for suicidal ideation.
When I was at my darkest point after the birth of my second baby, there was one persistent thought that plagued me constantly: I can’t do this. I give up. I don’t want to be anymore.
While I never had any specific plans or intention to commit suicide, my desperation for peace was so great that I just longed to not exist. I really don’t know what kept me from reaching the point of no return. It could only be God’s loving hand.
Tonight, holding my fourth beautiful baby, I’m so grateful that I’m still here.
And I want every mama to still be here.
I want postpartum suicide to end. I know I only have a small part to play, but maybe I can reach just one woman, take her hand, and walk with her to the other side of her darkness. And maybe you can, too.
And then maybe, together, we can save lives across the world.
How can you help?
- Start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to gently ask the mamas in your life if they’re doing ok. Try these conversation starters: – Being a new mom is so hard. How are you really doing? – How are you feeling? Any signs of depression or anxiety? I’m concerned about you. – You look great! But I know how well we mamas can hide our feelings. Let me know if you feel down or anxious. I’m a good listener. –
- Be informed. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of PPD and other perinatal mood disorders.
- Be vulnerable. Have you experienced PPD or another mental health condition? It’s validating for other mamas to hear that they aren’t alone: I’ve been through PPD, too. It was awful. I’m here for you if you ever find yourself in that boat.
- Offer to hold her hand. It takes so much courage for a woman to ask for help. Offer to hold her hand while she calls her doctor. Offer to go with her to her appointment. Offer to help her find a therapist. Offer your presence during the tough moments when she has to admit out loud that she needs help.
- Work to end the stigma surrounding maternal mental illness. This is huge. The more we talk about PPD openly, the safer women will feel and the more likely they will get the help they need and deserve. Social media is a great place to start. Also check out 2020Mom and National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health.
- Speak the truth. Does your loved one believe she is not deserving of life? Remind her of her great dignity as a child of God. Does she feel unloved or unwanted? Be God’s gentle arms and surround her with unconditional love. Does she doubt her ability to make it another day? Give her courage by believing in her worth and her beauty. Speak the truth to her until she can’t deny it anymore!
Are you struggling with postpartum depression?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THERE IS HELP. THERE IS HEALING. THERE IS HOPE. YOU ARE NEEDED IN THIS WORLD, AND YOUR LIFE IS WORTH LIVING. REACH OUT.
Get help here: