Ten years ago, I lost my 16-year-old son Jesse, to suicide and I wrote an article for the Boulder Jewish News, about the loss, the community response, and some things people could do to support suicide prevention efforts. At the time, I didn’t really care whether suicide was a “Jewish Issue” that belonged in this newspaper.
With the passage of time, I have thought about writing something again but wondered if it was an appropriate topic for this forum. After all, suicide is prohibited by most major religions. In traditional Judaism, a person who dies by suicide cannot be buried inside the cemetery gates and the family is not to sit shiva for one who dies by suicide. Thankfully, this view is changing, with an understanding that suicide is not an act of rebellion against G-d, but rather a result of a struggle with mental health issues. For my family, following the death of my son, the outpouring of love and support from our Jewish community was life saving.
While the word “depression” is not part of the Torah, David, Jonah, Hannah, Elijah, Job, Moses, Jeremiah and many more all struggled with despair. We need to be able to talk with the people we love and with faith leaders and professional counselors about the difficult feelings we have, and we need to be met without judgment but with support and understanding, especially if we are struggling with the value of our own life.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 12-24 in the US. In Colorado, it is the first. Even before the pandemic, the rate of youth suicide in the US increased by 25% from 2016 to 2019; at that same time, the rate of suicide deaths in Colorado increased by 58%. More than twice as many Boulder County students are hospitalized for self-harm or attempted suicide than are hospitalized for auto accidents. Clearly, suicide is a US problem, a Colorado problem, a Boulder County problem, and really an everybody problem.
What can we do about this? There are a lot of things we can do. We can have fearless conversations with our kids about suicide. We talk about other hard things like stranger danger and drug use; we can talk about mental health too. We can model self care. And we can support the many organizations in our local area that work on suicide prevention.
One of those is Rise Against Suicide (formerly Second Wind Fund of Boulder County.) Rise is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that helps uninsured and under insured youth in our community who are struggling with suicidal thoughts receive life-saving therapy that they would otherwise be unable to afford.
You can support Rise by joining our Virtual Emerge 5K on May 2nd. Registration is free and this is a virtual event that folks can do anytime on May 2nd from anywhere. Last year we had over 600 participants. Let’s show our kids that we care about their mental health and that help is there when they struggle with suicidal thoughts.
We know that children and teens in crisis can emerge from treatment with better resiliency skills and a renewed passion for life if they have access to mental health care in the moments that they need it most.
Note – If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please get help. Don’t try to face this on your own. There is hope and healing. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time day or night 24/7, to talk to someone who understands. Or text HOME to 741741. Go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information and help.