Speaker on the Aftermath of Suicide

Keynote Speaker – Depression and the Aftermath of Suicide

On October 31, 2013, while preparing to take my then 7-year old son trick-or-treating, I learned the devastating news that my husband had died by suicide.

Chris was a kind, smart, and funny man who kept most of his pain to himself. He didn’t abuse substances or fit any kind of profile you might expect. He struggled with bipolar depression for most of his adult life, but ultimately lost the battle.

Through my experience as a suicide survivor (that’s what the families are called), I have learned so much about depression and suicide. To honor my husband’s legacy, and in an effort to help educate others and remove the stigma associated with depression and suicide, I have developed several speaking programs around these topics, and also write related articles.

Depression and Suicide Statistics and Research

Depression reaches far and wide, and the statistics are alarming. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it is estimated that 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability for ages 15-44.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-14, and the third leading cause of death for those ages 15-34. The suicide rate for males is four times higher than for females and there are twice as many suicide deaths in the U.S. each year (44k) versus homicide deaths (17k).

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2014, approximately 65 percent of all Veterans who died by suicide were age 50 or older. Risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adults. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 19 percent higher among male Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult men. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult women.

Some good news: Up to 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments.

Understanding the Suicide Trance

Research has shown that when depressed people reach the point of being suicidal, their brains get stuck in a sort of loop, which is known as “the suicide trance.” All they can think about is ending the pain. It’s a very dark place to be—one that the rest of us can’t begin to relate to. They aren’t thinking about the repercussions for the people they leave behind. In fact, in many cases they think they are doing us a favor because they believe they are a burden to those they love.

This might explain why the world was so shocked when Robin Williams died by suicide. I watched as people said things like, “But he had it all. Why would he want to die?” I am quite certain that he didn’t WANT to die. He was so deep into depression that he couldn’t escape that torturous loop in his brain.

Our Story

I used to be one of the people who thought of suicide as a “selfish” act. Now that term makes me cringe. The man I knew, when he was healthy, would never have intentionally inflicted this kind of pain on us. He would never have wanted to miss out on watching his son grow up. He was the least selfish person I have ever known.

Though it came as a shock, his suicide didn’t come out of the blue. Chris battled severe depression for seven of our twelve years together, and declined rapidly in the last two years, yet most people had no idea. Many people suffering from depression are skilled at hiding it from the world, and they can rally and seem perfectly normal in the company of friends and family. But when back in the comfort of home, in the place where they should feel their best, the darkness takes over.

Chris was a mild mannered, kind-hearted person. He didn’t abuse substances, have a wild temper or display any kind of outrageous behavior. He worked at the same company for over 20 years. In many ways, he was as steady as a rock. He was the kind of dad who spent hours down on the floor playing with trains and giving horsey rides. He took our son to the park most weekends. He functioned in the world the best that he could, keeping most of his pain to himself.

We Need to Talk About Depression and Suicide

I don’t know the answers to suicide prevention, but I do know that we need to take away the stigma of depression so that those who suffer don’t have their feelings compounded by shame. I wish that no other family would ever have to go through this, but tragically, every 16 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies by suicide.

I want to honor Chris’ legacy by continuing to tell our story, speak up and raise awareness.

Articles I’ve written:

Please Don’t Give UpWashington Post, June 2018

A Widow’s Journey Through the First Six MonthsThe Shriver Report, June 2014

Need a Speaker for Your Workplace, Group or Event?

Stephanie Chandler travels from Sacramento, California and is available to deliver presentations about the aftermath of suicide and ways we can work to eliminate the stigma and offer more support to those who need it. She is also a freelance writer and is available to write articles on related topics.

Contact Stephanie Chandler.

If you need additional support, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.afsp.org. For those in crisis, please contact the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255.