Strength in the Storm: Thinking about Suicide in the Face of Natural Disasters

Contemplating life and death is probably common when in the midst of a natural disaster. As the eye of Irma passed over me on September 10, I was thinking about suicide and suicide prevention. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Magellan Complete Care, our health plan for individuals living with serious mental illness in Florida, had been busy preparing for summits to draw attention to and dialogue around suicide prevention to local communities. Two days before Irma hit, I was busy canceling vendors for the summits. The day before Irma, I was dealing with a surprise, last-minute mandatory evacuation order while trying to locate a friend who was experiencing homelessness and depression, and who had expressed a desire to let the storm take his life instead of seeking shelter.

As the winds howled, windows rattled, and rain pounded against the home I had evacuated to, I sat on a closet floor thinking about how much I wanted to live and how that desire to live had not always been there. There were years where, like my friend, I was lost in my own storm. Depression had flooded my soul, my thoughts were battered by negativity and I never felt safe. The aftermath, similar to a hurricane, was a life left in shambles, just wishing for normalcy.

Recent hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires remind us of the value of life. Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides another reminder. Every 13 minutes that the winds and rain of Irma pelted my home state, someone in this country was ending their life too soon by suicide. With a completed suicide happening in Florida every three hours , the death toll from suicide may end up being higher than that from Irma’s destruction.

Natural disasters and the realities of suicide provide the same call to action to communities. We have a responsibility to watch out for each other and take care of each other. When the power is out, you share the food and batteries you have and a reminder to hold on. When someone’s internal light is out, you share hope and support and a reminder to stay strong.

There is much work ahead to rebuild lives, homes, and communities devastated by recent natural disasters; to support communities in reducing death by suicide; and to help individuals struggling through adversity. I am living proof that a life can be rebuilt. Whatever challenge you are facing, hold on, stay strong and don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help.

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