September is Suicide Prevention Month and it is well past time that we begin to break the shame and the deadly quiet that allows the loss of so many.

Silence is not always golden.

Suffering needs a clear voice. An option that allows those hurt to thrive and those touched by tragedy to persist.

September is Suicide Prevention Month and it is well past time that we begin to break the shame and the deadly quiet that allows the loss of so many.

According to the latest statistics compiled by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)*, more than twice as many people die by suicide in Oklahoma annually than by homicide.

Death by suicide in our state ranks as the 8th leading cause of death overall. More disturbingly, it is the second leading cause of death for persons between 15 and 34, according to the AFSP.

Our future is dying.

Worse, there seems to persist a popular idea that suicide is both deliberate and selfish. It’s not. I believed that lie once until it almost stole me.

From my experience, suicide is not intentional. At least not in the way most people think. It is a grave symptom of a still stigmatized reality - mental illness.

Mental illness is heavily judged and misunderstood in all realms. Like many other disease processes, it can mimic many issues and at times appear to be resolved. It is complex and often intermittent. It is also a broad spectrum, from very mild to severe.

The awful truth is that sometimes the most dangerous time in a person’s life contending with mental illness is when things are seemingly going well.

All appears to be in order, goals are being reached, and smiles abound.

What happens to many of us living with mental illness is a crushing sensation that we have both peaked and duped our loved ones when in the midst of success. That to continue would mean we will destroy what has been gained and drag down those we love.

It is a devastating place ruled by learned experiences, social stigmas, and chemical imbalances.

If that seems absurd, first consider this explanation from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)**:

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

The good news is that recovery is possible and one of the most insidious fallouts of mental illness is preventable – suicide.

What we now know now about mental illness, and suicide specifically, is that no one is immune.

You can be rich. You can be famous. You can be unconditionally loved. You can be surrounded by friends. You can be planning ahead for decades.

What you can never be is exempt.

It is the worst kind of lie that death by suicide is a legitimate and sound choice. It is, in fact, a dangerous and unfortunate symptom.

When I was suicidal, I recall feeling like it was nearly impossible to see anything but an end as the way to not subject the people I treasured most to a future where I would most certainly ruin everything. Including myself.

There was a moment when I believed the pain could stop and was gripped by a fantasy of freedom.

I had reconciled any sense of guilt and responsibility with something that almost felt heroic. As if I could finally redeem all that I was certain would be discovered as rotten at my core. I felt like a sick burden. In my mind at the time, the ultimate sacrifice would be to free anyone foolish enough to have thought I was worth living.

You see, in those awful moments, there is a certainty that many almost never get to experience when they live with a mind that twists everything against their will. A knowing that things will be alright if you are just strong enough to make it stop.

While those lies persisted on a loop, I also had the support of an unknowingly compliant community in validating those falsehoods.

Everyone around me proclaimed me as either "strong" or "weak" and death by suicide as either "shameful" or "unexpected."

What was never expressed was understanding or a means to survive.

So, like me, many of us take the seductive offer. Some of us try and fail. Some of us find another moment that carries us through.

What we all deserve is a chance.

Everyone has skin in this game. It is vital that we all take the time to learn how to be beacons instead of unwitting bystanders.

We can turn the tide and we can save lives.

If you or a loved one is considering self-harm or suicide, reach out now. You matter. They matter. Intervention is love.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help.

Also consider attending the hour-long QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training that will be provided in Miami by Mental Health Association Oklahoma Monday, Sept. 10 at the NEO Calcagno Family Ballroom. The session is free and open to all persons 18 and over including representatives of area agencies and businesses by calling 918-585-1213 or visiting www.mhaok.org.

Please stay another day.

* https://afsp.org/about-suicide/state-fact-sheets/#Oklahoma

** https://www.namioklahoma.org/about-mental-illness

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.