Editor's Note: Introducing Our Guest Blogger, Cybele Mayes-Osterman: A Journey of Healing and Hope
In the world of Bertie's Beehive, where we seek to share stories that inspire, educate, and empower, we are honored to welcome Cybele Mayes-Osterman of USA Today as our guest blogger. Cybele brings with her a poignant narrative about one survivor's road to hope. Fifteen years ago, Jacki, the author of our "All Things Christian" page tragically lost her daughter Karen to suicide, an event that forever altered her and her family's life and left a void no one can truly recover from.
In this interview by Cybele, she shares a story of resilience, hope, and the strength to carry on. Here is a glimpse into her conversation with Fonda Bryant, a suicide survivor, shedding light on the importance of understanding, compassion, and the journey towards healing.
'You're Not Alone': How one suicide survivor spreads the message that help is out there
Cybele Mayes-Osterman USA TODAY
When Fonda Bryant called her aunt to ask if she wanted her shoes, her aunt knew something wasn't right.
"She said, 'Are you gonna kill yourself?'" Bryant remembers. "And I said, 'Yes.' And she went into action, like a superhero. And she saved my life."
Unknown to herself or her family, Bryant was suffering from depression that took her to the brink of suicide. Her experience echoes a growing suicide crisis across the nation.
September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, spotlighting the pressing need for continued awareness of the signs of suicide and methods to prevent it. But even as conversations about mental health have become more common in public spaces, statistics show the continued challenges of speaking up for help.
How to help someone who is suicidal?
Although 47% of American adults receive mental health care in a given year, the average delay between the onset of symptoms and the receiving treatment is a staggering 11 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. An American Psychiatric Association study found that over a quarter of American workers are unsure of how to access mental health care through their employer.
The rate of suicide rose 2.6% from 2022 and 5% the year before, after declining in 2019 and 2020, according to CDC data.
"Things are not good. We have not been able to put a persistent, visible dent in suicide rates in the U.S.," Dr. J. John Mann, a professor of translational neuroscience at Columbia University in New York and the director of the Conte Center for Suicide Prevention, told USA TODAY.
Suicide is rarely an isolated condition, and often accompanies a mental illness or other condition.
For Bryant, that diagnosis was depression, one with a close correlation to suicidality.
Bryant said her suicide attempt was the culmination of a lengthy struggle with depression. As a single mother working full time and facing a tight financial situation, Bryant began to feel that her daily stress was becoming unmanageable.
"It was like every move that I made took great energy, took great effort, even talking, washing yourself, just getting through today," she said. "It felt like I was walking in molasses."
At least 90% of those who attempt suicide have a psychiatric diagnosis, Mann said. "It's very rare to see a suicide, death or even an attempt outside the context of a psychiatric illness, half the time that illness is a depression."
Mental health woes can carry social sigma
As a suicide survivor, Bryant says the enduring stigma surrounding depression and mental illness remains one of the largest barriers for those suffering to receive help.
"We get blamed for mass killings," Bryant said. "Who wants to go and put that out there, that you have a mental health condition, when we can lose our jobs? So that's why we don't say anything."
That stigma often takes effect in the form of comments that those suffering from depression encounter when they share their symptoms. Those could include suggestions to get out more, increase exercise, or socialize, or other advice that glosses over the severity of a psychiatric diagnosis.
"If you've got a broken leg, You need to see somebody to get the cast, get some orthopedic surgery, rest, and let it heal, then walk around," Mann said. "Depression is the same thing. Get it treated, and then start socializing, then start improving your academic performance again, and all of those other things. It's not the other way around."
Statistics show that stigma may dissipate as more Americans learn about suicide prevention techniques.
About "94% of people believe that you can prevent suicide, and over 80% want to do something to help someone," Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior vice president of research at the American Federation for Suicide Prevention, told USA TODAY. "So I think those are signs that the stigma is being reduced. The problem is that only 30% of people have any idea how to know when someone is at risk and what to do."
What does depression look like?
What's the most effective way to spot the signs of depression? Mann said it all comes down to noticing changes in behavior. "That person isn't their normal self. They've gone quiet. They're struggling. The mornings are particularly difficult. Work performance goes down. Educational performance goes down," Mann said.
When it comes to heading off a suicide attempt, the best course of action can be a simple, direct check-in, like Bryant's life-saving conversation with her aunt.
"If you're worried about someone, the first step is to trust them, and have a conversation with them, and it can start off with simply, 'How are you doing?'" Harkavy-Friedman said. "You don't have to become a therapist. You just want to open the door to say, 'I care about you. I wonder if you're feeling so bad that you've thought about taking your life.'"
Mann stressed the importance of a face-to-face conversation. "When you see somebody and you ask them how they're doing, look at them when they're giving you the answer. Think about what the answer means in relation to what you already know about them and how they're doing."
'You're not alone. Need help?'
Bryant decided to turn her experience into action after another brush with suicide in 2014. One night after she was laid off from a job, she walked out of her gym and drove to a parking deck in uptown Charlotte with the intention of jumping over the side.
Bryant said a voice told her to get back into the car. She kept her eyes on the moon for the drive back home, collapsing in tears the moment she parked.
The experience kickstarted her campaign to put up signs reading "You're Not Alone. Need Help?" along with the suicide prevention hotline around the perimeters of every parking garage in North Carolina.
Her efforts led to a bill introduced by Massachusetts Sen. Paul Feeney (R-MA) to mandate parking garages across the state to install the signs. The bill was introduced as the Fonda Bryant Suicide Prevention Signage Act in the North Carolina General Assembly by North Carolina State Rep. Carla Cunningham in April. Bryant is hoping it will be passed this month.
"When you're struggling, a lot of times you feel like you're by yourself, even though you know there's other people out here," Bryant says. "I don't want a lot of stuff on them. I just want you're not alone."
Cybele Mayes-Osterman is a breaking news reporter for USA Today. Reach her on email at cmayesosterman@USAToday.com. Follow her on X at @CybeleMO
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