Lynn Altschul: Bringing Suicide Out of the Darkness
I never thought that I would be someone who would be touched by suicide. But over five years ago my 35 year old son died by suicide and I have been engaged in a process of grief, deep reflection and tribute ever since. Some people shine a light so bright that even when they are gone, the light still shines. Such is the case with my son, J.
Up until his 30th birthday, J seemed to lead a full and happy life. Bright, popular, fun loving, athletic, J enjoyed many successes and in his late twenties he earned his PhD in Philosophy at UCSB. He and his wife moved to New Orleans where he was hired as a tenure track professor of Philosophy at Loyola University. Everything seemed to be heading in a positive direction for him. Then he began to experience some depression and was prescribed an antidepressant that triggered a manic episode. After a terrifying ordeal, J was diagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder. Five years of struggle, treatment, medication and prayer- during which time J earned tenure- terminated when he succumbed to a severe depression and ended his life.
There are no words to explain the excruciating pain of losing a child. While my husband and I were very close to J with regular communication, visits and support, we didn’t see any of the signs of what was to come. We knew that J suffered a mental health disease and lived with a great deal of pain. While we believed that we were there for J and did all that we could, that we ultimately couldn’t help him and prevent this outcome haunts us everyday.
It has been five years of healing and we have been fortunate to have a community of friends and family who have supported and held us. I have two other children and four grandchildren who have been on this painful journey with us. We have always been focused on living our best lives for J’s sake. We erected a variety of benches, trees, etc. in his name and have become donors at the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. We have found some peace in celebrating his life and feeling gratitude about the time we had with him rather than focus on what we lost. We participated in support groups at Hospice of Santa Barbara which was very healing. We carry his heart in ours everyday and feel the glow of his light. We miss him terribly.
When the option presented itself to write about my story in our CBB blog, I experienced a variety of feelings. Did I want to expose my story to the congregation? How would I feel revisiting such a painful time in my life? Would there be others who shared similar journeys? Ultimately, I decided that it is so important to bring suicide out of the darkness and reduce the stigma and shame so often associated with it. I joined CBB shortly after J’s death and connected with Rabbi Cohen through the Melton class that I was taking. In a private conversation with Rabbi, I told him my story and the events around J’s death. He listened so closely and it felt so meaningful to share this traumatic event. In a moment of pause, he said “I wish I had known him”. I still feel so full when I think of that response. Not only did this indicate that he was listening to me, but acknowledged the importance of bringing suicide out of the darkness and acknowledging the pain and disease that surrounds it.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is a major public health concern and can touch anyone. It is complicated and tragic, but can be preventable. Knowing the warning signs and how to get help can save lives. If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, consider taking these five steps and get help .
ASKING: Asking if someone is thinking about suicide can open a door to help
KEEP THEM SAFE: Reduce access to lethal places or items
BE THERE: Listen carefully to what the individual is thinking and feeling
KEEP THEM CONNECTED: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 1-800-273- TALK and the crisis text line 741741 for easy access. In a crisis, call 911.
STAY CONNECTED: continued contact and connection can really make a difference.
This month and throughout the year, the National Alliance on Mental Health(NAMI) strives to raise awareness on this stigmatized and often taboo topic as well as to ensure that people have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help. I hope that by sharing my story, I have brought suicide out of the darkness and touched others who may have similar stories.
Lynn heads up our Mental Wellness Committee and If you would like to contact her to hear more, or find available resources, email her at email@example.com If you have questions or don’t know how to take the first step, contact Mariela Socolovsky, Director or Community Engagement (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lynn Altschul is a retired Family Therapist specializing in Child Development and the support of young families. She received her LMFT from the Family Institute at Northwestern University. Lynn is a CBB board member and active on several boards at Jewish Family Service in Santa Barbara. Originally from the Chicago area, Lynn and her husband have enjoyed Santa Barbara life for the past fifteen years while continuing to spend their summers back in the Midwest. She has four grandchildren and enjoys a variety of activities including photography, painting, bicycling, walking and reading.