Almost Mother's Day, and the sorrow in my heart grows like an unborn baby in the mother's womb.
My beloved twenty year-old son, Andrew, left my womb on a warm, bright day in May1989, and left this world on a dark morning in November 2009.
In the pre-dawn hours of November 3, 2009, he entered Bobst, NYU's library, went up to the 10th floor, and jumped to his death from the very same spot where other students had jumped from, before him. Andrew was a junior at NYU's College of Arts and Science.
His major, East Asian Studies and Mandarin.
Andrew's death was an explosion that devastated our family, all the more because we had no idea that all was not well with our son. We did not know about such a thing as a suicide pandemic. Nor did we know that when it comes to suicide, there is as much ignorance, stigma, myth and misconception as there used to be when AIDS first came to our shores. Instinctively I realized that the massive scope of the problem lies in ignorance, as demonstrated by the statement released within hours of Andrew's death, by NYU's President, John Sexton. An otherwise seemingly intelligent and compassionate man, John Sexton wrote:
"...The impulse for self-harm -- particularly among young men and women with so much talent and so much to live for -- is incomprehensible to me..."
To characterize suicide as an impulse for self-harm shows a shocking and dangerous lack of understanding of a serious and often deadly issue, mental health.
In the wake of the suicides on his campus, Cornell's President was right in calling for a National Dialogue instead of shoving the subject under the rug. For what happened to his students, to my Andrew, to Cameron Dabaghi, Andrew Koenig, Michael Blosil, to mention but a few, cannot be treated as a "one day news wonder," soon to be replaced by Kate Gosselin antics, or Sandra Bullock's husband's infidelities.
Cornell's President is also right when he says that students need to learn that it is smart to ask for help. But, have we actually taught our children how to ask for help? Have we explained to them that everyone feels down at some point? Have we made sure they know it is okay to tell someone how he or she feels, rather than bottle everything up? How can we expect the sick person who knows not he's sick, to know that he needs help? Our society teaches us to be self-reliant, it teaches boys and men to be strong and not let their emotions out. As a society we teach people that is smart not to ask for help. This is where the problem lies.
So, we, the grown ups, the caregivers, the teachers, the professors, we need to learn new paradigms of wellness, and teach them to our young at the earliest age possible. As one of my friends reminded me, we ourselves need to know and in turn teach them, that: "Everything in life can be helped."
Did you know that in the United States alone one-person attempts suicide every minute and that one person dies of suicide every sixteen minutes? I didn't!
My "education" started within hours of Andrew's death; mourners coming to my house would tell me of a time in their life when they or someone they knew had thought of, attempted or, died suicide.
By the time Andrew's funeral was over, I learned that eleven hundred college-aged students die by suicide every year, and yet I'd never heard of this. Neither had anyone around me. Suicide started to look like one of the world best-kept secrets. In the weeks that followed, I realized that much like homosexuality, suicide needs to come out of the closet. In the meantime, places like Bobst for instance, that have a history of suicides, need to be made safe. And before you start arguing with me: "when people are determined to kill themselves, they find a way," I suggest reading about the British Coal Story to learn that suicide is not inevitable. When English ovens were powered by coal, a number of people each year died by sticking their heads in the oven and being poisoned by the fumes. When England switched from powering ovens with coal to other means, the suicide rate in the UK dropped. The same happened in Seattle when, after much debate, barriers were raised on the Ellington Bridge. Research showed that people didn't move to a different bridge, or a different oven, instead they went on living!
So, as we raise awareness and understanding, we raise the volume of the all too often muffled cry for help of the depressed, and the suicidal in our midst.
I advocate that stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation be taught in schools as an integral part of the curriculum. As well as being good for suppleness, balance and our muscles, yoga helps us draw our focus within, in turn facilitating the deep betha and theta state of meditation during which the pineal glands secret potent healing hormones. A half hour of this regime every day and we wouldn't need to argue about the health care bill!
Let's also bring such life saving training into our schools that teaches both students and teachers, how to know when suicide is in the room and how to kill in the bud before it kills someone.
And while you are at it, please pencil in Sept. 28, 2009 in your diary, the day of
The Get Your Wellness On! Suicide Awareness & Prevention Fair.
At the Fair we will teach simple yoga and other stress reduction techniques such as massage. We will bring together Eastern and Western models of health, education and communication. One of the Fair committee members is a Yoga instructor and an extraordinary woman, who, fifteen years ago, attempted suicide. She was saved, and she agrees on all of the above, and she should know, right?
More details on my blog: www.foreverinvictus.com
So, go on, give this some thought.
While I will cry this Mother's Day even more than I cry every day, knowing that I am doing all I can, to turn my son's death into a shining beacon of light for others, makes the tears that bit sweeter.
Happy Mother's Day to my fellow survivors and to all Mothers.
Founder & Chair
Get Your Wellness On! Suicide Awareness & Prevention