I heard about National Suicide Prevention Week for the first time almost exactly four years ago this week. I was barely two weeks into my first semester at university, and it was already everything I’d dreamed college would be: I had a group of friends who I felt like I had known forever, and we went to parties with English majors and had movie nights in the dorm room I shared with the best roommate I could have asked for.
My roommate was the one who told me about National Suicide Prevention Week and helped me sign up for the free mental health counseling service our school offered. On Sept. 10, 2015, my roommate and I took a vow of silence for World Suicide Prevention Day — which was also during National Suicide Prevention Week. The vow of silence was “in remembrance of those who have taken their own lives and to raise awareness for the cause.” I skipped my morning class because of a panic attack, and we spent the day writing notes back and forth. When we went to the cafeteria for lunch, we passed out cards that told people why we weren’t talking.
It turns out, though, that silence isn’t the best form of communication.
My roommate died by suicide less than a month after our vow of silence for suicide prevention. She had been doing everything right: counseling, medication, deep conversations with people who cared about her. She did downplay how severely suicidal she was feeling when talking to her counselor because she was afraid of being hospitalized and getting behind in her classes, but as someone who has been in that exact situation, I can’t fault her for that.
It’s hard to talk to people about mental health, even if you’re paying them to listen to you talk about your mental health, and it’s so easy to get caught in your own mind. Sometimes, you can even convince yourself that people would be better off without you or that no one would care if you were dead. It’s so not true.
While I can’t know exactly what my roommate was thinking when she decided to complete suicide, I do know that people she didn’t even know personally were affected by her death. Though her friends and family don’t post on social media about how much we miss her as often as we did in the first year after she died, I do know we think about her all the time. I constantly try to imagine who she would have evolved into if she’d lived and how she would react to some of the things she missed, like the 2016 election, graduation and that time I shaved my head.
We were only 18 when she died, which even now at 22 seems so, so young. I just want to go back and hug my roommate and my 18-year-old self. I just want to go back and tell us both that there’s no rush, that it’s OK to take time to care for yourself, that being hospitalized might set you back in your classes, but failing a few classes is so much better than being dead.
The last thing I actually said to her was “I love you,” and while I’m so grateful for that, I still just want her to be alive.
Staying silent doesn’t work. If you’re having suicidal thoughts and need to talk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. If you think you’re in danger of harming yourself, please go to the emergency room to be evaluated.
McKenzie Caldwell is a reporter at The Times-Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2570.