A report by the CDC found that over 49,000 people in the United States died by suicide in 2022. The ‘Awareness is Not Enough: An ‘I’m Listening’ Town Hall’ by KNX News on Wednesday featured a group of survivors, experts, and advocates explored not only what we can do to combat this epidemic, but what conversations we need to be having about suicide.
Conversations about those who’ve died, those who’ve survived, and those who are in crisis.
“When people attempt suicide or potentially die by suicide, they're not selfish,” said Zak Williams, the son of actor Robin Williams. “And as part of that…for whomever needs to hear it… it's not selfish to take time for oneself and to love oneself.”
Williams, the co-founder and CEO of supplement company PYM, knows these discussions all too well.
“As a suicide survivor, my own experience was one of seeking questions around how I was coping with and dealing with the trauma and the grief even prior to specific suicide event because of the nature of seeing someone frustrated and in need of support,” he said.
He also suggested multigenerational approach should be taken when addressing suicide.
“The way in which you speak to a four-year-old is very different and you speak to - in terms of how you speak around things like mental health and stigma - a 20-year-old is different, [as is] speaking with a 30-year-old, 40-year-old, 50-year-old, 60-year-old and so forth,” he said. “And there's different orientations towards action based upon the generation.”
Ryan Dusick, the former drummer of Maroon 5 and now licensed marriage and family therapist, believes these
“Chances are you're not bringing up something they haven't thought about themselves,” he said. “So suicidal thoughts are very common. More common than we talk about. We probably should talk about how common they are.”
But for those in the LGBTQIA+ community, the conversation is tougher. The community’s youngest members are four times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their peers, according to the Trevor Project.
Anthony Rodriguez, co-founder of the nonprofit Santa Barbara Response Network, said fear of rejection from loved ones plays a massive role.
“A lot of these teens, because I work with a lot of teens, is they don't want to be here because their families are not accepting them for who they are,” he said. “ And it's not right.”
Tracey Cooper-Harris, retired U.S. Army sergeant and a military/veterans liaison for Congresswoman Grace Napolitano's office, recalled a conversation she had with her stepfather.
“He thought I was gonna do something to my mom because of her medical condition and, you know, it totally tore me up,” she said. “But the thing is we had - I like to say – ‘a come to Jesus moment’ where we sat down and talked about this and it got to the point where, you know, I had to have him understand, I'm still the same person and your rejection of me based on just who I love is... I said people have been killed for less.”
“And so you're seeing all this on the news, you're seeing that the LGBT community isn't accepted, you're seeing that we're something to be feared… I think that makes it more challenging for young people to feel comfortable coming out to their parents and then for the parents to be accepting,” she concluded. “And that's why you have such a high rate of not only suicide, these kids running away, these kids ending up in jail.”
Cooper-Harris recalled meeting Zak’s father.
“I had a chance to meet Robin Williams when he came out for the USO tours...I still have a picture of him up on my wall right now,” she said. “And the fact when we heard that, you know, he ended up taking his own life, what that always does to me is you have these folks that we see in the community that are so strong and you're like, oh my God, if they're, if these people are the ones that took their lives and what hope is there for someone like me?”
“Well, can I just say first off, he loved the troops with all his heart,” Williams said, smiling.
“Second, I will say that he was strong to the very end and that needs to be understood. It's not a sign of weakness.”
Watch “Awareness is Not Enough: An ‘I’m Listening’ Town Hall” in the video above.