My youngest brother and I are best friends. Even though we’re eight years apart, we have so much in common and enjoy spending time together. Back when I was a single mom, he and I had a house together and he helped me out with my daughter. After I met my husband and told my brother that I was moving from Philadelphia to California, everything changed. By the time my daughter and I moved a few months later, my brother was barely speaking to me.
It had been two years since my youngest brother and I had last spoke when I received an early morning phone call that he was missing. His live-in girlfriend, who I had never met, told me that after bringing their dogs home from a walk, he left the house and disappeared. My brother left his keys, wallet, and telephone behind.
I lived across the country, but my family and his friends drove the two hours from our hometown to where he lived to search for him. As I supported their efforts by doing as much investigation as I could from the West Coast, all sorts of scenarios ran through my head. I didn’t want to think the worse, but I couldn’t help it.
After nearly two weeks of being gone without a trace, I received another phone call. This time it was my mom letting me know that my brother had been found. He had jumped off a bridge and was on his way to the hospital in critical condition. Later that night, I talked to my brother for the first time in years. He was in a lot of pain, but surprisingly lucid. Our conversation was more honest than it had ever been as I asked him, “Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you answer when I called? Don’t you know that I’m always here for you?”
I had long suspected that my brother might have depression. We grew up with the same toxic parent, which presented a lot of challenges. My brother felt the brunt of it for various reasons. Even still, he was always so put together and able to adapt that I figured he had found a way to manage it and work through it. That’s why, when he wouldn’t answer my calls or text messages for two years, instead of being concerned that there was a problem with him, I assumed I had done something to make him not want to talk to me.
When we talked on the night that he was found, I felt so guilty that I hadn’t seen the signs sooner. I apologized for not being there for him, but he told me that his decision had nothing to do with me. Things had spiraled out of control for him and he thought going away would make everything better. Before he went to the bridge, he had checked himself into a treatment facility for a week. It was there that he decided his mind was made up.
As a suicide survivor, he said all the things the folks left behind usually suspect. That people would be better off without him here. He didn’t want to be a burden on people he loved. It didn’t matter to anyone if he was here or not anyway. That everything was going bad and he couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
My brother had just gotten out of surgery, but we talked for an hour. We caught up and talked about what he wanted for his future. It sounded as if he knew he had a second chance at life and was grateful for it. There were a few family members who didn’t understand that even though he was doing better emotionally in that moment, we needed to continue to support his healing. He didn’t try to die by suicide because he was weak and now he was strong. He’s always been strong, but depression can take down even the most solid person.
I was so thankful to have my brother back. For months afterwards, though, I would study him, looking for signs of darkness looming. He moved to California and stayed with my family for a short period while looking for his own place, and I never wanted to leave him alone. I’d ask him to ride everywhere with me even for quick errands, and made it a point to be in his space as much as humanly possible. I trusted him, but I didn’t trust his illness. It had tried to take him from me once, and I didn’t want it to happen again.
Loving someone who has attempted suicide has changed me. It has made me much more intentional about checking in with people and their mental health. If I see signs that something is different in a person, I ask, specifically, “Are you considering hurting yourself?”
My brother is not the only person I’ve asked that question in the last couple of years either.
I don’t let time elapse between checking on loved ones. If they don’t want to talk to me, they’ll have to tell me. Otherwise, I’m calling, texting, emailing, sending a video text, DM’ing on social media — anything to let them know that someone notices them and that they are important and valued.
Since then, my brother has recovered. He works hard to manage his depression after finding a regime that works for him. When I ask him how he’s feeling, he’s open and transparent. He knows what his triggers are and works hard to minimize them.
I know we’re not ever really in the clear. Depression can be so unpredictable. To know that depression at one time had such as strong grasp on someone I love so much is scary. I’m not going to dwell on how different things could have been, though. I’m just grateful that he knows that the things he thought when he was in his dark space are not true. Most importantly, I’m thankful that he’s still here.
If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For additional mental health resources, click here.