My Mom Nearly Died by Suicide

Ever since that wiffleball game ended badly back in 1969 and I had to apologize to the scariest neighbor on the block for my bad language, my life has been filled with challenging conversations.  I happen to enjoy talking about the hard topics.  The ones we were trained to avoid—politics, sex and religion.  And I’d add one more—suicide.  I’ve hosted intentional conversations on all of these topics.

My belief is that when we talk about these things, openly and skillfully, it decreases divisions and makes conflict resolution more likely.  I also believe healthy, open communication about difficult topics helps minimize mental health problems.  Especially now, during these stressful and strange months of Covid-19. 

I have my mom’s permission to tell you that one day, back in 1968, after years of wrestling with deep inner struggles, and post-partum depression after her sixth child (in seven years!!!)  she found herself in the garage, with the car on and the door down, thinking about getting out of her pain.  She thought of her many small children in the house and could not do it.  She turned the car off and went back to parenting, for at least another 20 years.  Maybe more like 50.  I have thanked God many times that she did not go through with it.

Years later when I was at the University of Notre Dame, one of priests on the faculty took his own life.  Also, a gifted and gregarious seminarian also died by suicide—which shook us all to the core.  One of my favorite teachers in my adult years, a talented therapist and conflict resolution specialist took her own life after a car accident that exacerbated her depression. And one of our neighbors, a young friend of our son’s, jumped off a high bridge to his death about two years ago.  Each one of these stories has hundreds of painful ripples.

And suicide impacts men more than woman.  In the USA, in 2018, men died by suicide 3.5x more often than women.  And construction happens to be one of the top fields that these men come from.  Military is the other.

Why?   One key element is communication. It’s too simplistic to say women are willing to share their problems and men tend to bottle them up. But it is true that, for generations, many societies have encouraged men to be “strong” and not admit they’re struggling.  And construction attracts strong men.  Construction also requires a lot of physical work, which can lead to body pain, which can increase the use of drugs and alcohol.  Throw in travel away from home, depression, sexual acting out, broken marriages and isolation and you get a ripe environment for suicide.

We condition boys from a very young age to not express emotion, because to express emotion is to be ‘weak’.  We say ‘big boys don’t cry.’  Men seek help for mental health less often.  It’s not that men don’t have the same issues as women – but they’re a little less likely to know they have whatever stresses or mental health conditions that are putting them at greater risk for suicide.

Suicide rates are equally bad, or worse in other countries, namely England and Australia.   In Australia you are six times more likely to die by suicide than by an injury on the job.
We need to make it okay for men to talk about how they’re feeling – and for that to be acknowledged as a sign of strength not weakness.

What can you do?

#1  Make it ok for men to talk about feelings by talking about your own.
#2  Begin every meeting with a brief check in and ask everyone to say one or two words that describe a feeling they have.  Do not accept “ok”, “good” and “fine” as feelings.  Dig deeper.
#3  Take care of your mental health by getting vigorous exercise, or at least a 20 minute walk, every day
#4  Do what I did and take the pledge for men in construction:

These are challenging times for everyone, not only men in construction.  So, do what you can to take care of your own needs so that you may be of service to others in need.  Reaching out to people who are near you, and showing concern is one of the best ways to forget your own troubles.

Email me for a conversation about any of this.  I can support you in doing the right and often difficult things you need to do.

“May God keep you safe, until the word of your life is fully spoken.”   Margaret Fuller

About Tom Esch

Tom Esch works with health care companies, counties, cities, construction companies, business analysts, attorneys, executives, owners, managers and non-profit executives to grow interpersonal awareness and foster effective communication.