By Maggie Merritt
Steinberg Institute Chief Operating Officer
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and in the spirit of breaking through the stigma and discrimination that keeps so many of us from reaching out for help, I’d like to tell you about my sweet nephew, Robert, and the impact his suicide had on our family.
Robert Merritt was an almost-27-year-old gentle giant (6’5”!). He had a wicked sense of humor, a love of music, and a kind and thoughtful, generous heart. But past trauma was causing Robert to suffer deeply. Like so many people, he hadn’t dealt with his trauma, and we now know he self-medicated with mind-altering substances. On top of the pain he was already suffering, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Robert lost his job, his college closed, and a long-term relationship came to an end.
He masked his pain well. When we last saw Robert in May of 2020, he recited poetry for his Nana’s 90th birthday, told a few good stories and shared some bad jokes. We had a great time! But we had no idea about the depth of his despair, and, like most of my family, he knew how to look good at all costs and had an impossible time asking for help. Tragically, Robert died by suicide on June 4th, 2020. At that moment, my family broke. Since his death, we have been wracked with grief none of us have ever previously known.
I share this story with the intent of inspiring hope and action. It’s likely you know someone who is living with depression or has died by suicide. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2020 the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes. I can’t even wrap my head around that reality. Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of death for people aged 10–34 years.
If you think someone you love might be struggling, here are three things you should understand:
Looking back, I knew that Robert was struggling, and so did several of my family members. I still find myself asking, “could we have done more?” But I also must remind myself that we cannot control the actions of others. And though it’s not useful to rehash this terrible loss for our family, we all can move forward with conviction, committed to reaching out, checking in, and letting anyone we think might be having a difficult time know that we see them, that we are here for them, and we care.