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Removing the Stigma of Suicide

My husband told me about a young African-American man who committed suicide just a few short days ago. We talked about the fact that we have heard of two other such suicides recently in our community. With so much going on with the unrelenting news about the coronavirus (COVID-19), the high unemployment numbers and the utter upheaval of life as we know it, I wanted to revisit an earlier blog and ask you to be even more alert as you support those around you. Don’t overlook the signs that folks may actually be crumbling from all the weight we all now bear. At the end of today’s blog Teresa and I include various resources which we sincerely hope will be of value as you navigate through these times.

I love to read. From the time I was a little girl, reading has been my favorite thing to do. My mother raised 7 kids alone after my father died and as you can imagine she was always busy trying to keep all the balls in the air. No matter how busy she was or how tired, when I was young, she always made time to drive me to the library every other week. She knew how much I loved to read. Reading was as essential to me as drawing my next breath. I even have a personal rating system for books. I note on the first page of every book, the name of who gave it to me or if I purchased it for myself and the date it was received or purchased. I then include its rating. My rating system consists of the following specific rating scale. Either I note that it’s: A gift to myself, , A precious gift to myself, A most precious gift to myself, or, my highest rating, A most precious gift to myself indeed.

October is National Suicide Prevention Month. Recently I finished a book on the subject titled Life After Suicide, by Jennifer Ashton, M.D. In the book, Dr. Ashton chronicles the suicide of her ex-husband and devoted father to their children, Dr. Rob Ashton. Dr. Ashton, a thoracic and cardiac surgeon, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey. By all accounts Dr. Rob Ashton was an amazing man, an accomplished professional who was most loved by his family and friends. Dr. Jennifer Ashton did a masterful job in sharing her family’s devastation and ultimate survival of her ex-husband’s suicide.

While finishing up the book, I learned that another physician, Dr. Marsha Edwards killed herself that same week. Dr. Edwards allegedly killed her two adult children, 24-year-old Christopher Edwards and 20-year-old Erin Edwards, before turning the gun on herself. Dr. Edwards was an accomplished and admired professional who was dearly loved her children.

Maybe Dr. Edwards’ death hit me particularly hard because she was an African American woman whose background, as shared in media accounts, would have made it unlikely that she would commit suicide. However, since I was reading Dr. Ashton’s book I had more information to better process her death.

Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds.Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention notes on its website that in 2017, there were 47,173 recorded suicides here in the US. That number was an increase from the 42,773 persons who committed suicide in 2014. In 2017, there were 1,400,000 suicide attempts. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death here in the U.S. A 2018 Washington Post article by Amy Ellis Nutt notes that African American children commit suicide “at roughly twice the rate of their white counterparts.” Those are staggering numbers and dispel a position long held in our community that African Americans don’t commit suicide. It is happening, and the results are devastating to those left behind. Suicide leaves survivors reeling from not being able to prevent the death or say good-bye. They suffer tremendous guilt.

The point Dr. Jennifer Ashton shares repeatedly in her book is that we must find a way to take away the stigma of suicide. As a community we do not have the luxury of talking about suicide in hushed tones, acting as if it does not happen in our community and when it does occur, acting in ways which say its occurrence is solely the result of an abnormality of that individual or their remaining loved ones. You may be tempted to cite our lower rate of suicide and make the wrong conclusion that it should not be a priority. If that’s your position, refer back to the earlier statistic which notes that our children kill themselves at a higher rate than any other group. Can you imagine the total devastation that reeks on a family, on a community? Truly it takes a village to be on the lookout for signs of depression in our youth which may indicate that they may literally take matters into their own hands.

In her book, Dr. Ashton clearly makes the point that people who commit suicide are suffering from some type of mental distress. Be it temporary or ongoing. The person who commits suicide believes that was their best option to end unbearable pain. Survivors are not to be judged and ostracized. However, we don’t have to be hopelessly overwhelmed and pretend we don’t know what happened, when hearing about suicide in our community. A simple, I am so sorry followed by How can I help, is a great start to support survivors and help us all to heal. Of course, it is even more important to be proactive. If you know someone who may be in distress, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They can be reached at 800.273.8255, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Knowledge gained from Dr. Ashton’s book was a precious gift indeed.

COVID-19 Resources


Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources

Small businesses are facing an unprecedented economic disruption due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. On Friday, March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the CARES Act, which contains $376 billion in relief for American workers and small businesses.

The Paycheck Protection Program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.

IRS gives info on how to get stimulus checks ASAP

The Virginia Department of Taxation: Businesses impacted by COVID-19 can also request to defer the payment of state sales tax due March 20, 2020, for 30 days.

Resources for Veterans

Exactly what is in the Coronavirus Relief Bill (CARES ACT) for families?

Mortgage payment relief

For Virginians who have lost their job or had their wages reduced or need help with getting food, visit the Virginia Department of Social Services website.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists eligible low-income households with their heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance, weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

Unemployment insurance benefits provide temporary financial assistance to workers unemployed through no fault of their own that meet Virginia's eligibility requirements. Also, many people are experiencing difficulty as a result of COVID-19. See what benefits are available for you based on your income.

Funding for non-profits

Small Business Relief information provided by Virginia Senator Mark Warner

Resources for Restaurants and Workers Coping with the COVID-19 Emergency

If you need assistance paying bills, getting food or other essential needs you may call 211.

You can also find information about applying for unemployment, healthcare extension, disability, and more.

Learn more about how you can support in-home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners during the Coronavirus crisis.

Feeding America and our network of food banks are continuing to provide food to people in need during these times of uncertainty.

Freelancers Relief Fund will offer financial assistance of up to $1,000 per freelance household to cover lost income and essential expenses not covered by government relief programs, including: food/food supplies, utility payments and cash assistance to cover income loss.

Health Resources:

Stay physically and mentally well while shelter in place

To deal with the fear and the anxieties around the coronavirus

Telemedicne is a good resource to consider if your doctor’s office is closed or it may be difficult to get an appointment. Also, If you are not feeling well and have questions about yours or a family member's health, telemedicine allows you to receive medical advice from the comfort of your home.

Nutrition Resources:

Education Resources:

Online art opportunities for small kids with artist in residence at the Kennedy center, Mo Willems.

32 free resources for parents with young kids stuck at home

Educational Resources for tweens and older:

At Home Activities

Department of Defense: Learn about careers in STEM fields

Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics: Kids' Zone

Environmental Protection Agency: Games, Quizzes, and Videos about the Environment


Special shopping hours for folks 60 and over, those with other physical impairments, caregivers and pregnant women

Costco - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8am to 9am

Aldi - Tuesday and Thursday 8:30 to 9:30am

Albertsons - 7am to 9am Tuesday and Thursday

Target - 1 hour on Wednesday

Dollar General - The first hour they are opened dedicated to Seniors

Walgreens - Tuesday 8am to 9am for seniors and caregivers

Walmart - Tuesday 1 hour before the retailer opens

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