Thursday, 4:02PM. Late for class, I hurriedly answer my cell phone. Having already
spoken with my mom earlier that day, I am prepared to tell her that I will call back. It is then that
she asks if I had spoken with my little brother yet that day. I pause, the outer door slightly ajar,
my hand tight on the handle.
“No, why?” I respond. Her voice is strange. Off. The door slips from my fingers,
shutting with finality, as she begins to cry over the phone. It is a broken sound of fear and pain as
she explains that earlier that day while the classes were still in session, a high school student had
committed suicide. My brother’s best friend.
A million scenes and emotions flash through my head. The boys playing spike ball in the
basement. The boys eating ice cream at Dairy Queen after a middle school choir concert or
laughing as I drove them home from their job at a local car wash. The annoyance I felt whenever
they were too rambunctious. The guilt at having been annoyed. The disbelief that washed over
me. The reality. I saw it in my head and felt it in my heart, and yet the doubt creeped in. It wasn’t
real. It couldn’t be real. I braced myself for it again and again and yet each time I was
unprepared for the words that she has spoken. The painful truth raking my soul. Aden was gone.
Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico.
These states make up what is known as the suicide belt. According to the National Institute of
Mental Health, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming 44,965
lives in 2016. That is more than 1 person every 15 minutes. That same year, 9.8 million
Americans reported having serious suicidal thoughts, and 1.3 million Americans attempted
suicide. The number more than doubled to 2.8 million for people with suicide plans.
I grew up in Salem, Oregon and my community, my high school, was accustomed with
grief. During my high school years, the student body suffered together with the loss of students
to accidents and suicide alike. You cannot predict when or how tragedy will strike. Sometimes
you cannot even predict how to respond. In these cases, one would talk about it for more than a
month. Avoidance was key. Do you remember so-and-so? Do you mean the senior who… raised
eyebrows, nervous glances… you know, died? It was as if we never knew how to respond. We
had never been trained what to say because society had trained us not to say anything. We would
make it worse if we brought it up, we thought. We would hurt someone’s feelings or trigger
someone’s emotions, we assumed.
In Marion County, where I went to school, a statewide survey noted how 20 percent of
11th graders and 14 percent of 8th graders said they had seriously considered attempting suicide
in 2017. Just last year, 12,278 young people reached out to the Oregon youth crisis line.
According to Natalie Sept, the spokeswoman for Oregon’s suicide and crisis line, Lines of Life,
it is common for people who do attempt suicide to talk about ending their pain, rather than their
lives (Alexander 2018). They are hurting and horribly confused about their purpose in life. They
feel that they are at an impasse. For example, in the wake of the Netflix series release of 13
Reasons Why there was an increase in internet searches concerning suicide. Though dismaying,
studies found that the majority of inquiries were for “suicide hotlines” and “suicide prevention”
(Pappas). According to this study, people are seeking help, whether for themselves with hotlines,
like the Lines of Life in my state, or for their loved ones through suicide prevention. Now take
these numbers from my county, from my state, and imagine them multiplied by fifty. Imagine
your hometown and how it would respond.
Think, how can we help? First, we need to know the myths. There are many myths
associated with suicide that lead to confusion, bias, stereotypes, stigmas, etc., however, there are
two myths specifically that have influenced my understanding of suicide for much of my life.
Primarily, when discussing suicide, our society has a distinct fear that by talking about
suicide people are more likely to commit suicide. It’s considered taboo. Often this discussion is
met with hushed tones. Reactions to the topic led me to believe that suicide was a “behind closed
doors” conversation. It was as though I couldn’t bring it up for fear of planting the idea in
someone else’s mind or in my own.
This fear carries over into the sectarian notion that suicide is an unforgivable, damning
sin. This myth has been brought about by parallels often drawn between the act of “committing”
or “attempting” suicide with committing or attempting to commit self-murder. Our
understanding has been that suicide is a rejection of God’s path and the blessings of eternal life.
It is a fear that has plagued me personally. This misunderstanding has always been inconsistent
with my image of a loving and forgiving God.
When we are faced with mortal and eternal questions, we must recognize that we do not
know all the answers. There is no perfect solution, but there are ways to move forward. As stated
by Elder Dale G. Renlund in a recent address on suicide, he discusses how coming “together as
families, as churches and communities we can do better than we are doing now.” We will thus be
able to decrease embarrassment by speaking up and reduce stigmas surrounding suicide by
creating supportive environments of healing. An example I would like to offer is a memorial
vigil held by my community after the death of Aden’s death.
What started as a quiet invitation for parents, students, and staff to join in a prayer around
the building quickly turned into a gathering of more than 2,000 people⏤people with different
backgrounds, beliefs, scars, and strengths. The weak and the strong. The hurt and afflicted.
Those who were healing and those with hands to heal. Each person in my community was doing
better by simply being there. By simply remembering.
Through my community coming together, I have learned that those fears and myths,
which influenced my perception of suicide, were false. So, let me offer my solutions for societal
and spiritual healing in regards to suicide.
By talking openly about suicide, we do not run the risk of increasing someone’s chances
of committing suicide, instead, we allow for healing to begin. It is a hard topic to address,
however, teaching difficult subjects, like the inoculation against harmful or deadly diseases,
provides accurate information on misunderstood topics (Ballard 2016). It protects against
diseases such as bias, stereotypes, stigmas, etc. Suicide is one of those topics that is
misunderstood. Psychologists have expressed how even they have to discuss the topic multiple
times before patients realize they are in a safe enough environment to express suicidal thinking
without feeling judged or weak. It is time to open a dialog that will allow individuals who are
suffering to have a safe haven from the storm. In fact, psychologists and ecclesiastical leaders
alike agree that the most effective healing for those struggling with suicidal tendencies is
fostered by a non-judgemental, accepting, and supportive environment.
For spiritual healing, I offer an explanation from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in which he
Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly
where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. … Persons subject to
great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point
that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for
taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he
knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make
all things right in due course. (Ballard 1987)
For me, the key phrase from Elder McConkie is that all things will be made right in due course
by the Lord. Often we expect our mental or spiritual healing to happen immediately; however,
when you have a broken limb, you cannot expect it to heal right away. It takes time to allow the
fragments to bind together and physical therapy to build strength again. As with suicide and the
grief of those affected, we cannot simply mark a date on the calendar and expect to be okay.
Even broken bones still ache years later. We must trust that our loved ones will be ok and we
must believe that we will as well.
Finally, I extend my response to the loved ones suffering from guilt. I often wonder if I
could have done something differently. I have learned that this line of thinking leads only to
despair. Instead, I call out to you with concern. It is not about what we could have done, but what
we are going to do together. As my community joined together, so can you and I join to open the
dialog. Certainly, there are many different ways we can do this. The important thing is that we
begin to foster environments in which those affected by suicide and suicidal thinking can heal
In high school, I did not know how to react; in college, I am still wary; nonetheless, I am
confident that little by little I will be able to help in the healing process for myself and for others.
It won’t be easy, nor will there be a great change overnight, but I am certain that there is a future
date, unset, on which it will be better. As stated by Natalie Sept, “suicide is preventable”
(Alexander). It takes communication, acceptance, and a willingness to try.
I cannot help but feel the grief and pain that I am sure is only amplified in those who had
been closest to Aden during his life. There is still fear and confusion, but there is also hope.
Hope for the mercy of a God who is also a Father. Hope in the Atonement and the sacrifice that
makes up the requirements of justice. Hope that we will reject stereotypes and offer our hands.
Hope that communities will come together in open dialog to support those who have suicidal
thoughts. Who have attempted suicide. Who feel marginalized. Who have lost family members.
Seek to help. Seek hope.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK(8255),
connecting callers to crisis centers near them. For help in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
Crisis Text Line (USA), text HOME to 741741
Alexander, Rachel. “1,000 From Sprague Community Pray Together Following Student’s
Death.” Salem Reporter, 8 Oct. 2018, 2:09pm,
Ballard, M. Russell. “Suicide.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,
Ballard, M. Russell. “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st
Century.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints, 26 Feb. 2016,
Castro, Joseph. “Where is the Suicide Belt?” LiveScience, Purch, 29 Mar. 2013, 3:41pm,
National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action. U.S. Dept. of Health
and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General and National Action Alliance for
Suicide Prevention. Washington, DC, 2012.
Pappas, Stephanie. “Suicide: Statistics, Warning Signs and Prevention.” LiveScience, Purch, 10
Aug. 2017, 9:51pm, www.livescience.com/44615-suicide-help.html.
Renlund, Dale G. “Reach Out in Love, Elder Renlund Says in New Suicide Prevention Videos.”
Church News and Events, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2 July
“Suicide.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,