Three days after Christmas, the brother of one of my dearest childhood friends committed suicide. Mike was 57, the oldest son in a family who lived next door to our family since I was 4 – almost 48 years. Our families shared Christmas brunch, celebrated high school graduations, weddings, births and baptisms. Saturday was our first funeral.
In my desperate effort to find comfort and some answers, I reached out to friends. Here is what I learned:
▪ Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in our country, claiming 41,000 lives annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
▪ Almost four times as many men commit suicide as women.
▪ While the suicide rate for both younger and older Americans remains virtually unchanged, the rate has spiked for those 35 to 64 years old, with a 28 percent increase from 1999 to 2010.
▪ The rate for whites in middle-age jumped an alarming 40 percent during the same time frame.
This dramatic increase seems to suggest evidence of a generational wound. While the Greatest Generation deserves recognition for its contributions, few would argue its members have much of an emotional vocabulary or are willing to express their feelings. Both men and women often find it difficult to ask for help. Our difficulty receiving love and support not only compounds our isolation and suffering, it reinforces stigma.
Philanthropy possesses the power to heal and erode stigma. There are few stories as exciting as the one about Bill and Betsy Blue’s vision for the Hopeway Foundation, an effort to raise $20 million to build a holistic mental health care facility in Charlotte. Their willingness to share their personal journey is not only transforming healthcare for those who suffer from mental illness, but they are helping to erode the stigma and shame.
In Albemarle, a community hard hit by addiction to painkillers, Allison Hudson and her family are building Will’s Place, a sober living community for men, in memory of her brother who died from an accidental overdose of Fentanyl four years ago.
In 2012, Jan and Ron Kimble established the Jamie Kimble Foundation in memory of their daughter who was murdered by a former boyfriend. Less than two years later, Ron Kimble hosted the Men for Change Breakfast at Bank of America Stadium within days of Greg Hardy’s arrest for assaulting his girlfriend. Within a week, Kimble had the ear of NFL leadership and was advancing the national conversation about domestic violence.
The recipe for change requires a leader brave enough to share his or her story and the determination to make a difference. When people with means and influence bring these issues to the forefront, an entire community is healed.
We cannot afford to be bystanders. Lives are at stake.
McLeod leads Giving Matters, a Charlotte consulting firm focused on philanthropy.