Transformed by an Unbearable Loss, a Mother Advocates for Suicide Prevention.
By Kate Rader
Jill Martin knew her son Taylor was struggling. Exacerbated by diagnosed depression and stress at work, he suffered from mood swings, impulsivity, and had difficulty sleeping. Taylor, 25—a graduate of Walkersville High School and Frederick Community College—was a plumber’s apprentice and loved fishing, hunting, and camping. He was having a tough time, Jill thought, but never imagined that on March 29, 2016, she would lose her son to suicide.
Taylor had tried different medications but didn’t like the way they made him feel. Over time he became more vocal about his depression and began to make excuses to avoid family gatherings and meet-ups with friends. “He started secluding himself,” she recalls. As a parent, she was “frustrated…I felt out of control because he was an adult and (his mental healthcare) was up to him, but he wasn’t in a good place to make those decisions.”
After Taylor’s death, Jill went to counseling and grief groups and read books that “might give me insight as to how to walk this walk,” she says. In 2016, along with family and friends, Jill participated in Frederick’s Out of the Darkness Walk—organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—to honor Taylor. The organization focuses on research, educating communities about mental health and suicide prevention, advocates for public policy, and offers support for those touched by suicide. “Once I began to help others to heal from their loss, I really began to heal. This is a pain you never get rid of, but you can find a place for it and learn to live again.”
In 2017, Jill was asked to serve as chairperson of Out of the Darkness for Frederick County and today is a board member of AFSP Maryland. She’s learned that her son had been showing the classic signs of someone who could be suicidal and works to share her story with others, so they can identify potential warning signs. One of AFSP’s programs, Talk Saves Lives, sends volunteers to workplace settings, correctional institutions, college campuses, and more to educate people on recent suicide data and teach them about what they can do in their communities to save lives.
Each year, ASFP sponsors Out of the Darkness Walks across the nation, providing an opportunity to remember lost loved ones and acknowledge how suicide and mental health conditions have affected survivors.
In 2020, nearly 48,000 Americans died by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death. It’s known that certain factors dramatically increase the risk of suicide. For example, according to the ASFP, women were 1.66 times more likely to attempt suicide, but men died 3.63 times more often than females. For ages 10–34, suicide was the second leading cause of death, and the fourth leading cause for people ages 35–44. In 2019, the suicide rate was 1.5 times higher for Veterans than for non-Veterans over the age of 18.
“I had no idea how prevalent of an issue suicide is,” Jill says. “It’s important to acknowledge our own mental health, too. When we have a broken arm, we do something about it. But with mental health, it’s not as visible to others and is easier to put off.” Sometimes, victims don’t even know they’re suffering because of the pain they’re in. “It’s like when you experience kidney stones or a broken bone—you can’t speak, think, or function clearly when you’re in that kind of pain.”
KNOW AND ACT
AFSP.org provides helpful information on risk factors and warning signs, along with protective factors—things that reduce suicide risk such as better access to mental health care and limiting access to lethal means. Additionally, Jill suggests that persistence is key. “Seize the awkward and start a conversation from a place of caring. It’s okay to feel awkward. Sometimes it takes four or five times before someone is willing to open up.”
She also suggests creating what she calls “time and space.” “Get to them quickly and create a barrier or delay their process by connecting them to 911, a crisis hotline, or go to the ER. If you see someone suffering, follow your gut and reach out to them, because not everyone is going to see it.”
Jill believes it’s most important to peel away the stigmas associated with mental health and be proactive. She acknowledges that she was afraid to
use the word “suicide” in the past, but that now she knows it may instead be
a relief for someone considering suicide to talk about it.
“Listen with compassion and advocate for help,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Be the voice, and know that it is okay to not be okay.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 800-273-8255 or Text HOME to 741741
Veterans Crisis Line
800-273-8255 OR Text 838255
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Visit afsp.org to find your local chapter, or for more information and free registration for an Out of the Darkness Walk.
Hagerstown walk: Oct. 1, 2022
Frederick walk: Oct. 15, 2022
Content ©WiYNN 2022. All rights reserved.