World Suicide Prevention Day is on Friday, September 10th. It is an opportunity for us to raise awareness and promote action that will reduce the amount of suicides and suicide attempts globally. Through action, you can make a difference to someone in their darkest moments - as a member of society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbor. We can all play a role in supporting those experiencing a suicidal crisis or those bereaved by suicide.
This month, we sit down with Sheba Wheeler and Natalia Stellabotte to learn more about their exeriences:
1. Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Where do you live now? What do you like about your current town or city?
Sheeba: I am the Office Manager for Merkle’s Denver location. In my spare time, I enjoy portrait photography, playing video games with my 13-year-old nephew, mastering the perfect bowl of ramen, and tending my balcony garden. I was born in Los Angeles, CA and moved to Texas when I was six. The thing I love most about living in Denver is being just an hour away from the mountains and everything the outdoors can offer you – a sense of freedom, adventure, and peace.
Natalia: Currently, I live in Lutherville, Maryland. What I like about living in Lutherville is that there is a great deal of diversity in the people who live here and the cultures that they represent and by extension how people think and feel about any number of topics.
2. How has suicide directly impacted your life?
Sheeba: Last year at the height of the pandemic, my friend, Andrew, died by suicide. He had battled depression for most of his life and had endured terrible life circumstances that could have broken him. But he rose above all those crises and appeared to be happier and healed. That’s why it was so devastating for his family and friends to learn that he had taken his own life. He and I had spoken at length about our shared experiences overcoming depression and anxiety, and about my own suicidal thoughts. I don’t know why he didn’t reach out to me that night when he was hurting so much, and I often feel guilty because I couldn’t help him.
Natalia: While I have not had a friend or family member attempt or commit suicide, I have experienced passive suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts for most of my life. I say passive suicidal ideation because they are not active in that I have not made any plans to attempt suicide. As some of you know, I am transgender, and I have dealt with gender dysphoria which causes me to experience passive suicidal ideation because my gender identity conflicts with my biological sex which promotes intense anxiety and depression.
2a. How have you processed, managed and/or healed from this experience?
Sheeba: Healing is something I think you must fight for daily. While the initial grief may have passed, questions that will likely never be answered still haunt me. Losing Andrew to the very symptoms I suffer from makes me want to fight for my life and to continue my personal path to mental wellness through cognitive therapy and support from loved ones. And one of the lessons I hold on to is acknowledging the pain suffered by those who are left behind in the wake of a suicide.
Natalia: I don’t know that I have healed from the experience because it is always with me. It can be as innocuous as telling myself, “I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow”, when going to bed, or it can be so intense that I lose sleep, can’t concentrate, and become a not-so-nice person to be around. When it does get bad, it’s because my anxiety and depression happen at the same time. I manage my passive suicidal ideation through therapy and medication, and through my transition, it has lessened but has not gone away completely.
I have to thank my manager for being so understanding at a time I was experiencing the worst passive suicidal ideation in my life. He had asked me a question about a project, and I snapped at him. Later that morning, we had a quick meeting and when we were done discussing that he asked, “So, what’s going on with you?”. I told him what was happening and for the first time I spoke with someone who took the time to talk with me rather than dismiss me. That interaction helped a lot because it made me feel as though I wasn’t alone, and someone had my back.
3. What do you think is the most important thing we need in the fight for suicide prevention?
Sheeba: We need to learn the warning signs of people at risk for suicide, teach them to recognize when they need help, and then connect them to care and support. We also need to increase equity in access to mental health care and improve treatment service quality. For many, the process of seeking out routine, consistent treatment can be daunting if you aren’t covered by insurance and can’t afford out-of-pocket expenses. Racial and ethnic minorities continue to have limited access to mental and behavioral health care compared to their white counterparts in America.
Natalia: Awareness needs to be front and center. People who have dealt with suicide attempts or ideation, and those effected by the aftermath of a suicide need to feel that they can talk about their experience without the fear of being stigmatized.
3a. How do we begin implementing this?
Sheeba: I think we must start on a personal level, creating safe spaces within our own relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. Stigma related to having a mental health condition continues to be a barrier to treatment. I think we can combat that stigma by talking about our daily struggles and normalizing seeking help as a strength not a weakness.
Natalia: I have found my weekly touch bases with my manager very helpful. We discuss both work issues and how I’m feeling. If this is not a general practice, I think it should be implemented company wide. By having this opportunity, I’m able to talk with my manager about what’s going on with myself and the very act of having that space to talk often reduces any anxiety and/or depression I may be going through at the time.
4. What are you doing to bring awareness and drive change?
Sheeba: In Andrew’s honor, I conceived and orchestrated “fearLESS: Our Stories Inspire,” a Merkle CXM series in the Americas region featuring interviews with key company leaders and team members around the organization who share their struggles with a mental health condition. I believe that such openness about our experiences and the work we’ve done to better ourselves can end stigma and create a roadmap for others to get the help they need. I also speak openly about my own mental wellness journey so I can lead by example and hopefully be a light in other’s darkness.
Natalia: I would say that doing exercises like this interview can help in providing awareness to people who would not otherwise know about the aftereffects of suicide has on individuals and the loved ones left behind and let others who are dealing with suicidal ideation know that they are not alone. I have heard that suicide is selfish, but I would say be compassionate with those who are suffering with this intense pain because it is this pain that drives people to consider suicide as a means of relief.
5. What is one thing you would want others to do on September 10th for World Suicide Prevention Day?
Sheeba: I want us to check in with someone who might be struggling in silence. Open that discussion and be brave enough to ask, “How are you doing? Really?” Create security by sharing that you are struggling too. Talk about the things that have worked to help you feel better and the things that are still troubling you. Often, we just want to know we aren’t alone, and that can make a difference in someone’s sense of self-worth.
Natalia: Talk with a friend or person you know who may be struggling if they are open to talking about what they are going through. Just sit there and listen to them. Give them your attention. Don’t offer platitudes or try to help them solve the issue because oftentimes, in my experience, that could lead the person dealing with suicidal ideation feeling worse and exacerbate the situation.