This month is suicide prevention and awareness month. We are grateful to feature LIFE founder, Dr. Mara Windsor, as she shares her story about how suicide has impacted her life.
*If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions, please reach out for help. LIFE has a 24 hour a day help hotline for support as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
"When I was in 5th grade, my 17 year old brother Maurice moved to Texas to live with his father. To say I was devastated was an understatement! Maurice was the star pitcher on the high school team, an impressive football player, popular, and my friend too. He was everything you would want your big brother to be - when he left, it was like the light had gone out of our house.
On an ordinary afternoon, our phone rang. I answered, and immediately recognized that it was Maurice's dad and he was crying. Rattled by the strangeness of his grief, I handed the phone to my mother. The moments after I handed over the phone are a blur of tears and confusion.
Maurice had shot himself.
He was alive, but he wasn't going to live.
We had to go.
My mom and I packed and drove to be at his bedside. I was able to hold my hero's hand and tell him goodbye. My mom and his dad had to make the decision to stop all life sustaining measures. It was horrific.
Crying For Help
In the weeks and months that followed, I learned first hand the stigma of suicide and how it affects survivors. When I returned to school, I was either isolated from friends who were uncomfortable with the fact that my brother had taken his own life - or bullied for the same reason. One boy in particular made a point daily to remind me that my brother had died, usually making a finger gun and putting it to his own head.
My poor mom was distraught. She was doing everything she could to put one foot in front of the other and it felt cruel to bring my sadness and problems to her. Our family members didn't realize how much I understood about the situation and so they talked over me, or not at all. The loneliness was unbearable.
Because of Maurice, I was determined to help people with their mental health. I began my college career on a path to a psychology major. I worked with a team who would counsel individuals for a variety of reasons, but it just so happened that the first call I ever went on was to a family that had just lost a member to suicide hours before. When we arrived, there were still remnants of the person's death...we helped clean the area for the family to spare them further trauma. I realized then that the emotional toll for me in that position was going to be too great.
As an emergency medicine doctor, I estimate that 20% of the cases I see are secondary to mental health issues, addiction, suicide and suicide attempts. Doctor suicide rates have been on a steady increase since the onset of the pandemic, coming in at nearly 1 doctor dying by suicide EVERY DAY. Let that sink in. Every. Day.
Working for Change
If you read the risk factors for suicide, I fit a lot of them. I'm a female, a doctor, and I have a family member who died by suicide. All of these put me at a greater risk. While that might sound strange to admit, it's an important reminder for me to remember that prioritizing my mental health is incredibly important - it's vital to my survival.
Part of that prioritization involves this: talking about my story and my experience. Doing work to decrease the stigma of mental health and of suicide. Creating LIFE to support frontline workers' mental health is important to reducing my risk and the risk of suicide by others as well.
As a family, we decided to donate Maurice's organs and tissues. He was able to give life and quality of life to 8+ other individuals. I hope by sharing his story, it will do the same for many more.
If you're curious about your risk factors, click here to take the Adverse Childhood Experience test to see your risk for anxiety, depression or suicide. And if you're experiencing a crisis, click here to be connected with a LIFE Virtual Wellness Crisis Support member.
And if you need immediate help, please reach out to the Suicide Crisis Hotline by calling 988.