Suicide is a tragedy that perspective and education can combat.
BY BRANDEN RAULSTON
“Stanley committed suicide. They found him in his treehouse,” said the voice on the phone.
I think about those words all the time. It has been six months since I lost one of my best friends from high school, but the memory of the night I received that phone call still plagues me.
It had been a terribly long month. The stress of school and work had peaked to the highest it had ever been. I was still grieving the loss of my grandmother, who we had buried only five days earlier. That night was supposed to be a night of relaxation. I was scooping ice cream when I got the call.
“He shot himself,” the voice was shaky.
Nausea ensued. My appetite vanished. I was in disbelief as my friend explained to me what little he knew. We were both trying to wrap our heads around what he did. Stanley didn’t seem like the type. But how could I know?
To this day, I don’t have closure about his death. I doubt I ever will.
I still wrestle with the guilt, feeling like I should have been there for him. Teachers, professionals, and loved ones have all told me that there was nothing I could do. I know they’re right, but their words bring no comfort.
I want my friend back. I should have just checked in on him.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and for the first time in my life, that means something to me. And with a suicide occurring every 13 minutes in the U.S., it means something to a lot of people. Being informed and understanding the thoughts of someone about to take their own life are some of the best tools to prevent it.
The following sections give accounts from survivors and provide general information on suicide prevention.
Wrestling with faith
Hands raised, bouncing up and down as Christian pop blasts through the speakers, he could often be found at the front of his private high school’s weekly worship services. The passion for his faith was obvious. But deep behind his bright smile and contagious laugh, he had a secret, and it was eating him alive.
Kurcel Joseph, a senior at Cal State Long Beach, did not know what it meant to be gay until he was in eighth grade. He had long felt like he was forcing himself to like girls. As a Christian, the thought was unacceptable. He buried it, but his attraction to men grew.
“Every time I started to think of a guy in that way, I would quickly swat the thought away,” Joseph recalls. “I did not want to go to hell, be seen as an abomination among my friends and family, or be kicked out of my private Christian school.”
He resisted his desires, but they wouldn’t subside. By sophomore year of high school the secret was becoming burdensome. His faith and his sexuality were at constant battle in his mind. Thoughts of inadequacies and sin consumed him as he began to spiral into a dark depression.
“I started to feel like I wasn’t good enough, that I was on my way to hell, and that life was not worth living if I was ‘plagued’ with a one way ticket to hell,” he recalls.
Thoughts of suicide began to creep into Joseph’s mind. He wanted it all to be over. As his depression peaked, he hit rock-bottom.
He would soon try to end his life.
“When I decided to do it, I felt scared, but slightly relieved that it might be all over soon, ” Joseph recalls. “The day of the attempt was like any normal day. I went to school, came home, did homework, and played video games. It wasn’t until later that night that I actually thought about it because I was trying to have a good last day.”
With a pocket knife in hand, he went to cut himself, but he couldn’t, saying he felt a presence — he assumes was God — that stopped him from following through.
“I stopped, and I was angry. My way out was halted. All my adrenaline and motivation fled my body and I realized what I was doing,” he recalls. “I decided to give myself a couple of days to rethink. I decided to keep my life.”
Joseph says he made it through high school by the grace of God, and felt that college would present a clean slate for him. Still yearning to be straight, he thought a new school in a new city would afford him the opportunity to fool those around him and himself that he was heterosexual.
As stress and thoughts of suicide began to consume him, the lie, once again, broke him.
“[It] pushed me into a panic attack, which snapped me into the fact that I needed to come to terms with who I am or it would mean a deathbed for me,” Joseph remembers. “I made the conscious decision to not fight my sexuality anymore and to believe that God created me the way that he did and that he is pleased with who I am as a human.”
When he finally came out, he was met with backlash. He lost his position as vice president of his Christian fraternity and was removed from middle school leadership at his church. As his decision to be proud of his identity was attacked, he began sorting through people in his life, losing some key relationships in the process.
“I do not regret my decision and I am happy to say I am a proud homosexual man who is still madly in love with God,” Joseph says. “Through the support of my savior, my amazing family, and the friends who stayed by my side, I am able to keep going each and everyday.”
Moving between India and his birthplace of Kenya during his youth, David Sequeira knew what it was like to travel, but Switzerland was the farthest he had been thus far. He was studying to be a priest and was one of two Indians at the seminary.
He could barely understand the language. The food and customs were foreign to him. Isolation set in as he struggled to assimilate.
“[The other Indian student and I] were like strangers in the house. We belonged to the same community, but we were not treated as part of the community. We were always on the side,” recalls Sequeira Ph.D, a psychologist in Long Beach. “[The rest of the community] talked together. They did things together. We
were kept a little separate.”
Troubles with his superior at the school caused him to reach out to two priests from his congregation who were in Paris. The letter was read by the superior — a common practice for communications leaving the school — and the word “boss” was misinterpreted to mean “tyrant” by the superior.
The mix-up lead to consistent discrimination from his superior. People Sequeira reached out to for help were forbidden from speaking with him by the superior, and his benefactors were even lied to and told that he did not wish to visit them. Depression slowly crept into his life.
“When he found out what I wrote and started punishing me, I did not have anybody,” he recalls. “I was crying in my room all the time, could not study, could not do anything.”
The discrimination did not stop with isolation. His superior went as far as banning the talented singer from performing in the choir, though he was still made to practice.
The depression worsened.
Instead of socializing, he cried in his room. He stopped eating and could no longer sleep. Finally, the school noticed and took him to a physician who prescribed him Valium, an anti-anxiety medication that Sequeira says did not solve his depression.
“It was still very, very difficult; they continued acting towards me the same as before. They never changed,” he recalls. “I was always the black sheep over there with them. When I was sick I could not go and tell them anything.”
He decided to end his life.
“I woke up that morning and I said, ‘This is all dark. And why do I want to live? It’s not going to get better at all,’ and I still have another two years to finish my studies,” he recalls. “And I said, ‘How can I continue like this? It is impossible. I don’t see any hope.’”
He grabbed a knife and went for a walk, crossing over a river to a small grotto where many came to pray. Surrounded by plaques commemorating miracles received from prayer at this place, he knelt and prayed.
“I wanted to explain to God that I didn’t want to commit suicide, but there was only darkness. I didn’t see any light … I said, ‘Why should I live like this?’” he says in a heavy tone. “My father had died. My mother was in India. My sisters were in Africa. I was alone over there.”
He put the blade to his skin, and began to slice.
“Stop! This is not the end,” a voice in his head exclaimed. He believes it was God saving his life.
He stayed at the grotto for some time before he returned to the seminary and confided in a professor, who assured him that suicide was not the answer. This relationship became vital.
Secret communications with the professor and his friends in Paris helped him through his depression. Immediately after finishing his final exam, he left the school and never returned.
“It was tremendous freedom. Terrible freedom. Peace, freedom that I’ll never see that place again,” he says as his smile spread.
After leaving the school, Sequeira’s journey would be filled with many more hardships and similar discrimination from superiors, but he braved these with the help of friends. Traveling took him to England, Brazil, and then, eventually, the United States where he left the priesthood and earned his doctorate in psychology from Wright Institute Los Angeles.
During Sequeira’s career he has helped many, especially clients struggling with addiction, overcome their depression or thoughts of suicide. His most common tool is his own story. Showing patients that they are understood and that it is possible to find hope, he says, are powerful steps towards recovery.
Unlike Sequeira and Joseph, many contemplating suicide are not saved by a voice from above. For those struggling with suicidal ideation, a friend or family member may be the first one to notice warning signs and play a crucial role in saving their life.
It is common for those that reach out about their suicidal ideation to be labeled as seeking attention or manipulative, but this is a dangerous assumption, says Jasmine Adams, a licensed clinical social worker practicing in Long Beach.
“I always take it seriously, whether it is the first time or the tenth time, because if it’s not attended to or taken seriously, then the fear is what would happen,” Adams says.
For someone that has been identified as suicidal or depressed, having someone they feel comfortable sharing with can be a crucial part in helping them work through their struggle, Adams says.
“I try to encourage openness about being able to talk about it. I tell my clients … I want them to tell me when they are having suicidal thoughts. I don’t want them to be afraid to share their thoughts and feelings,” Adams says.
Suicidal ideation needs to eventually be treated by a professional, but in the moment someone opens up, it is important that they have someone to talk to that can give them support and lead them to the appropriate resources, Adams says.
“Definitely keep them talking, in terms of being a good listener and also helping them think of the present and think of the future,” Adams recommends. “Because if you’re able to help them think towards the next hour or the next day, then that gives you hope that they are thinking about the future, not just thinking about ending it.”
The next step is to get them immediate professional help. A friend or family member should try to talk them into doing this. If the person refuses, then 911 should be called so they can be professionally evaluated at a hospital, Adams says.
Once a person is evaluated, then recovery can begin. Part of the process is educating friends and family. A safety plan is also developed that may include grounding techniques for when their suicidal ideations are triggered and a network of contacts for the patient to confide in during difficult times, Adams says.
There may also be instances where someone that is dealing with suicidal ideations does not seek help. In these cases it is of the utmost importance that friends and family are able to recognize that the person is struggling. Signs of suicidal ideation or depression can include sadness, loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, loss or increase of appetite, changes in behavior or habits, fatigue or isolation, Adams says.
At the end of the progression towards suicide, a person may begin to give away possessions or take steps towards bringing closure to their life. At the very last moment, when they have made the decision, a person may get a sudden burst of energy and have an upward shift in mood when they think they have found a solution to their problems. This is a potential red flag of immediate danger, Adams says.
“With depression, [one may not] even have energy to carry out the suicidal ideation, but if they have a lift of energy, then they might have enough energy to follow through with it,” Adams says.
It is important to never give up on someone. Even those in the worst situations have found success in opening up and seeking help.
“If anybody were having any type of thoughts of feeling helpless or hopeless, they can look to talking to a therapist and getting support because there are things that can help,” Adams says. “Even in the darkness, though it feels bleak and like a lost cause, remember that there are tools and techniques. Things can get better.”