CONFRONT SUICIDE Brandon was a good friend. He was my high school roommate, football teammate, and co-worker at the Sir Shop in Statesboro, Ga. At Georgia Southern, after I became a KA, he became a pledge. We did all the things that many college guys did in the early and mid-nineties. He liked his drink. At the time, I did too. We hunted, dated nice ladies, and did some practice shooting with friends. I will never forget that his favorite handgun was a .357 Smith and Wesson revolver. He would always shoot .38 rounds out of it. It lessened the “kick” and he believed it made the gun more accurate. Yet, I sensed something about Brandon that he was able to hide from almost everyone else; a deep fear I did not understand. During the summer going into my senior year, I received a phone call from his mother. It was the first, but not last time, I dropped to my knees in shock and disbelief. Brandon Jackson had taken his life. When he was found, his .357 and one .38 spent shell casing were on the floor beside him. He was 21 years old. Brandon was my first friend to take his own life. But, he would not be the last. (Below you will find my opinion based on life experience, my own research, and common sense). Earlier this year marked the 20th time that a friend, close acquaintance, or client has taken his or her life. While each person was going through different circumstances, there has been a common question. Why? There are other questions that we all ask when someone takes their life. What could I have done to help? How did this happen, he/she seemed so happy? Who or what made them do this? I don’t believe that these questions are ever truly answered. But, there are answers to suicide prevention. The answers and solutions are difficult and will take time to implement. If/when we decide to step up and really look into the eyes of suicide, these two issues must be addressed: 1. STIGMA – Ignorance and intolerance play a huge role in suicide rates. Our society understands and applauds our fellow citizens who overcome physical health problems. The star running back who returns to the field after a gruesome knee injury, the wounded soldier, and the cancer survivor are all justly considered heroes. Yet, the person with even the slightest mental health problem is considered by many to be weak, “crazy”, or somehow unfit. For example, if a person overcomes clinically severe depression, they may be quietly hugged by family members and friends. But, in the minds of many others, the person was, is, and will always be “crazy.” This high level of ignorance and intolerance must be eradicated. But, just as many “social justice advocates” cannot successfully force their views upon use, the stigma surrounding suicide cannot be changed in this way either. Education and awareness are the only tools that can foster true change in attitudes, belief systems, and culture. 2. EDUCATION AND AWARENESS – Because these tools work best when used together, I have combined them. First, despite the “everything is completely okay with me smile” we use in public, we all have problems that affect our level of mental health. Just like absolute perfect physical health, no one has perfect mental health. Yet, unlike seeing a doctor for reoccurring chest pains, it takes great courage to seek medical advice for depression, anxiety, or other conditions affecting our mental health. Why? We are afraid for several reasons. Some reasons include the fear of other people finding out, the concern of being judged by others, the desire of powerful politicians to take some of our Constitutional rights away (see the 2nd and 4th Amendments), and the fear that our own intolerance will turn toward ourselves. Many, if not most, suicides in America happen when a person suffers from severe depression. This medical condition is oftentimes compounded with other factors such as self-medicating with alcohol (a depressant) or other substances. Yet, depression and other mental health conditions are treatable if a person sees his or her doctor. But, educational tools are useless if they are not properly and widely communicated. It will take massive public service announcements from trustworthy sources, brave public figures telling us about their how they have become more mentally healthy, the removal by voters of opportunistic politicians who broadly threaten to take firearms from “the mentally ill”, and the health care system treating mental and physical health the same to even begin to break through the concrete wall of ignorance and intolerance. So, what will we choose to do? The easy route is to ignore this column and keep the status quo while we watch people die. The arduous path is for this politically fractured nation to unite on this one issue. Based on history, Americans have always had what it takes to conquer what we set our sights on. My prayer today is that you will take the difficult steps to confront suicide with courage and strength. If you do, you will see me right beside you.