What We Can Learn From Angelina Jolie — About Suicide

I was reading Angelina’s op-ed piece in the New York Times, on her decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer.

The fact that she shared her story was both courageous and inspiring.

Why did she want to share her story and not keep it private, a move that’s been called heroic by many?

She knew that by stepping through any fear or stigma that surrounds the “C” word… she would not only inspire women to take action and be proactive with their health, but to also shed light about the genetic testing and the resources available for women.

Just like the cancer word strikes fear in people, causing them to shut down at the mere mention, so does the word suicide.

There are people out there who tend to believe … if you don’t talk about it or act like it happens, then surely it will not happen to them. This became very evident to me after losing my son, Chris, to suicide.

I never knew anyone personally, who had experienced the loss of family or friends to suicide. Yes, I had heard the word and knew what it meant, but I never heard anyone openly talk about it.

A few months after losing Chris, I heard about the upcoming Suicide Awareness Remembrance Walk to be held in downtown Kansas City and that the event would be emceed by one of the local news anchors.

I thought to myself… Ron (my husband) and I have to go to this. The more people who show up… the better chance of the media airing coverage of the walk that will bring awareness of the resources available in the Kansas City area for suicide prevention.

When September rolled around, Ron was working out of town, so I went on my own. When I pulled up to the park where the event was being held, my mouth dropped open and my heart skipped a beat at the hundreds of people there. I just couldn’t believe it.

How could there be so many people affected by something no one ever talks about?

I sobbed the whole walk. When the walk was over, I was talking with a lady… I’ll never forget this … who had lost several family members to suicide. After losing the last family member, she called her boss and ask to take a week’s vacation. He said sure… have a great time and enjoy your week off.

She never told him that she had just lost a family member to suicide and would be spending the week making funeral plans while also dealing with her own grief.

She said, she went back to work the following week like nothing ever happened, while her boss thought that she had went out of town on a fun trip.

I was just blown away by this. I’m often asked what brought me to coaching. When I share that losing my son to suicide and working through my grief, empowered me to want to help other women on their life journey, it’s amazing how many people open up and share a story of their own loss with me… reminding me everyday… how important it is to step through any fear, shame, or stigma because it shows other people that it’s OK to talk about our life experiences… whether it’s a loss, abuse, or illness.

For the people who cringe at the word suicide, remember this… Suicide affects all income levels, all education levels, all types of families, all spiritualities and religions.

* Every 40 seconds…someone dies by suicide.

* 22 veterans die each day by their own hands.

* In 2012, 349 active members of the armed forces took their own lives.

* And the latest suicide statistics show an increase in baby boomers taking their lives due to various reasons, like job loss, economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers, with a 50 percent increase in men in their 50’s and nearly 60 percent in women ages 60 to 64.

But the true numbers will never be known, because… suicides are under reported. We could all learn a great lesson from Angelina Jolie by being courageous and sharing our stories and the resources available, because they may change a life or save a life.

What do you have to share?

Julie Barnes

More Articles Written by Julie

Julie Barnes is a women's empowerment coach and mentor, founder of ClaimYourShine.com and the creator of programs like Finding Your Phoenix. Julie is passionate about teaching women that we can all rise from the ashes and begin life again with a new and inspiring purpose.

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  • Ann says:

    Hi Julie- I just read your post and have had a similar experience. Until I lost my precious 19 year old son, suicide was not a work I used in my vocabulary but suddenly I every breath and thought was thinking about suicide, and why this was my life.
    It has been almost two years since we lost Brian, and now I am seeing where this journey is taking me, to helps others who are in my shoes.
    I am just beginning to start the process, but you have inspired me that this is where I need to go.. Thank you. ann

  • Julie Barnes says:

    Hi Ann,

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your Brian. It sounds like we have traveled along the same journey and have both found the importance of being there for the people who are only beginning their journey. I’m honored to have inspired you and thank you so much for your kinds words.

    Sending you hugs!
    Julie