Anash.org inbox: When you hear of a suicide, who do you picture? Perhaps a depressed teenager, a single and lonely middle-aged person, or an anxious criminal who kills himself rather than face a court? The person who most likely does not come to mind is me: a young frum mother.
When you hear of a suicide, who do you picture? Perhaps a depressed teenager, a single and lonely middle-aged person, or an anxious criminal who kills himself rather than face a court? The person who most likely does not come to mind is me: a young frum mother.
Self-harm and suicide are two topics that are rarely discussed in relation to the frum demographic. However, we are not exempt from these issues. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10-34. With a statistic like this, you likely know someone who, at one point or another, dealt with suicidal ideation.
Before you panic that talking about such topics only encourages them, take a deep breath. There is a misconception that speaking so openly will cause someone who did not previously entertain such thoughts to not only have them, but chas v’shalom, to act on them. In fact, the opposite is true. If someone knows that there are others out there who are going through the same thing, it can make coping easier. If someone knows that there is support for what they are dealing with, it can make coping easier. Feeling alone in your struggle simply exacerbates the struggle itself.
My journey in the darker part of depression began, like so many others, as a teenager. I was around fourteen when I self-harmed for the first time. I discovered that hurting myself caused a large release of tension and anger. Although I knew it was not healthy or proper behavior, I never told anyone. Instead, I made sure to use parts of my body such as my thighs or upper arms where nobody would ever see any marks. This behavior continued on-and-off throughout high school and seminary.
Once I got married and became pregnant, my mental health took a downward plunge. I dealt with depression and anxiety throughout all of my pregnancies and postpartum stages. I went to therapy a few times for a few short periods but never stuck it out. After I gave birth to my third, my depression went from bad to worse. I began to regularly stab myself to the point that my thigh was a constant bruise. Other days, I figured out a different method to inflict pain on myself.
There came a point when husband and I decided that I needed to begin taking antidepressants. Unfortunately, the doctor who I saw did not even give me an option of saying that I was suicidal, instead, he decided that I must be fine since I have a solid community. In truth, I was really close to being actively suicidal.
For those who are thankfully unaware, antidepressants are not magic. It can take many tries to find the correct medication (not all antidepressants are the same since not all forms of depression are the same) and dosage. And even once that perfect recipe is found, one’s body can get used to the medication causing it to lose its effectiveness.
About a year and a half after I started taking my medications, I had my first real flirtation with suicide. Thankfully, this episode ended without me getting hurt in any way. However, for the next week I had no energy whatsoever, and for the next six months, I had constant flashbacks.
A year later, suicidal thoughts struck again. This time I was out of town, traveling for a family simcha. The urge to overdose was so strong, that I sat in bed shaking and crying, trying to rationalize with myself why I can’t ruin the family simcha by killing myself. I told my husband about my thoughts and had him hide my medication, otherwise, I would almost certainly have overdosed.
At this point, it’s been close to a year since I was actively suicidal boruch Hashem. I am still on medication and see a therapist regularly. But my depression and the fact that I have contemplated suicide in the past are a constant. It’s almost as if I feel the need to be aware at every given moment that this is my challenge, that this is my journey. And that gets really difficult.
Often times, I wonder if one of the reasons that I just can’t seem to get over it is the lack of support for suicide attempt survivors or those who have struggled with suicidal ideation in the frum world. I even reached out to one of the few mental health organizations geared towards frum women and was not allowed to join since they are not open to discussing suicide or self-harm. I once heard a nurse who worked in a psychiatric ward say that frum patients had a much higher rate of being a return patient. I would venture a guess that this is due to the feelings of loneliness and therefore unworthiness that come from dealing with these struggles as a frum person.
What do I hope to gain by going public with my story?
First and foremost, I want other frum people who have or are struggling with mental health, specifically self-harm or suicide, to know that they are not alone, there are others with the same struggles. So to all my fellow warriors, I see you. I hear you. I believe you. And most importantly, I believe in you.
And now to everyone else. Please, check in on your friends, children, and loved ones. Even a monthly “how are you” text can be enough. Be genuinely open to hearing and holding space for the other person. Learn the signs of suicidal ideation. And if you do suspect that your friend is suicidal, don’t be afraid to ask them point blank. If they sense your honesty and genuine care, they are more likely to open up then to lie. Obviously, before you do that, learn how to respond in such a situation.
Boruch Hashem, the last few years have brought much more awareness and openness to the topic of mental health. But suicide and self-harm are still taboo. It should not be this way. If people were more open about the fact that this problem exists, those struggling would be much more inclined to seek help. As it currently stands, admitting to these struggles is a permanent black mark. In order for this battle to be won, we need all the support we can get. So please, let’s break the silence, stop the judgment, and help each and every person lead a healthy and happy life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to use these resources including on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
Call 988 or text “HELP” to 741-741
If the thoughts present immediate danger, call 911
For countries out of the USA, it is worthwhile to know your country’s crisis line number
Learn the signs of suicidal ideation: https://www.suicideispreventable.org/
This article originally appeared in Bodies and Souls