COMMENTARY: It’s time to really talk about suicide

Last weekend I attended an event at the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs organized to bring awareness to the social heartbreak of suicide. Included was a showing of the movie “Suicide: The Ripple Effect, chronicling the story of Kevin Hines.

At the age of 19, Kevin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with the intention of dying, but he survived. What struck me most about the story was his own testimony of what happened the moment he let go and jumped.

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As his consciousness suspended in freefall, he cried out in regret. He did, after all, want to live. Remarkably, he survived and has dedicated his life to talking about issues related to suicide. His inspirational message is a life-giving ripple effect of his jump.

Because I lost two brothers to suicide, I’ve become involved in local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Its mission is to bring awareness to the alarmingly high incidence of intentional death and ultimately decrease the number of deaths by suicide. I’ve been healing myself through outreach, and have been empowered by others also affected by suicide. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to reach those who suffer from such deep-seated pain, but when I engage in community events designed to open the conversation, I’m encouraged.

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And then I learned of Kate Spade’s death by suicide. My heart broke. Here was a fashion icon whose name label adorned charming polka dot shoes and bow-laden purses. Her style exuded fun. The brand Kate Spade brought a touch of crème to a closet full of black spandex. How could this prolific designer of whimsy succumb to despair? It is most likely a question her own family ponders.

Suicide is a real problem. It is not some disconnected occurrence we can afford to ignore. It is an epidemic; news outlets last week covered a Centers for Disease Control report that suicides rose across the nation from 1999 to 2016 — up by 30 percent in some states.

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Too many bright stars in our collective sky choose death. Too many young people surrender to hopelessness even before they can define their unique gifts to the world. Too many loved ones fly below the radar, masking stories of shame with facades of false contentment. The awfulness of suicide makes it an uncomfortable topic, not often embraced at the neighborhood cookout. But we must forge ahead, nevertheless, with compassion and a willingness to be bold in caring for each other. Something we can all do is simply ask, “Are you OK?”

I wonder about Kate Spade. When high-profile people choose to end their lives, the rest of us tend to pay attention. Her life is no more important than any other, but neither is she less important. The only way to make good rise from the ashes of any suicide is to talk about it. Discussion regarding depression, despair, or other factors that lead to hopelessness needs to be more mainstream. You never know when your reach can offer a lifeline to another who may be silently struggling.

David Spade, the actor and comedian, spoke of his love for his sister-in-law, Kate, after of her shocking death. Concluding his remarks, he said, “It’s a rough world out there people, try to hang on.” Indeed, if we are fearless enough to talk about suicide and exhibit empathy for one another, perhaps we can provide a safety net to those who feel there is no other option to their despondency. Otherwise, some of us have everything to lose.

Call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in need of immediate help.

Centerville writer Anne Marie Romer is a regular contributor.

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