When you hear of a suicide, who do you picture? Perhaps a depressed teenager, a single and lonely middle-aged person, or an anxious criminal who kills himself rather than face a court? The person who most likely does not come to mind is me: a young mother.

Self-harm and suicide are two topics that are rarely discussed in relation to our community, but we are not exempt from these issues. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10-34. With a statistic like that, you likely know someone who has, at one point or another, dealt with suicidal ideation.

Before you panic that talking about such topics only encourages them, take a deep breath. There is a misconception that speaking so openly will cause someone who did not previously entertain such thoughts to not only have them, but to act on them, Heaven forbid. In fact, the opposite is true. When a person knows that others are going through the same thing, it can make it easier to cope. Knowing that support already exists eases the burden. Feeling alone in the struggle simply exacerbates the struggle itself.

My journey into the darker part of depression began, like so many others, as a teenager. I was around 14 when I self-harmed for the first time. I came to believe that hurting myself caused a large release of the tension and anger I was holding onto. Although I knew it was not healthy or proper behavior, I never told anyone. Instead, I made sure to use parts of my body such as my thighs or upper arms where nobody would ever see the marks left. This behavior continued on and off throughout high school and seminary.

Once I got married and became pregnant, my mental health took a downward plunge. I dealt with depression and anxiety throughout all of my pregnancies and postpartum stages. I tried therapy a few times for short periods but never stuck it out. After I gave birth to my third, my depression went from bad to worse. I began to regularly hurt myself to the point that my thigh was a constant bruise.

After a major depressive episode which could have ended much worse than it did, I went to the doctor to get a prescription for antidepressants. Since this was an emergency, I was forced to go to a regular GP instead of waiting for an appointment with a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the doctor decided that I must be fine since I have a solid community and did not even give me the option of saying that I was suicidal. When he reached that question on the mental health assessment, he skipped over it, saying, “Nah, you definitely are not suicidal.” Unsurprisingly, in my vulnerable state, I did not feel comfortable correcting him, although in truth I was very close to being actively suicidal.

I would love to say that once I began taking medication, everything straightened out. For those who are thankfully unaware, antidepressants are not magic. It can take many tries to find the correct medication and dosage. And even once that perfect recipe is found, one’s body can get used to the medication causing it to lose its effectiveness, which is exactly what happened to me.

About a year and a half after I started taking my medications, I had my first real flirtation with suicide and spent half the night with our local police force, sheriff, and state crisis workers. Thankfully, this episode ended without me getting hurt in any way or having to be brought to the hospital. However, for the next week, I had no energy whatsoever, and for the next six months, I had constant flashbacks.

A year later, suicidal thoughts struck again. This time I was out of town, traveling for a family celebration. The urge was so strong that I sat in bed shaking and crying, trying to rationalize with myself why I didn’t dare ruin the celebration by killing myself. I told my husband about my thoughts and had him hide my medication. Otherwise, I would almost certainly have overdosed.

There was a third and fourth time that I contemplated taking my life, and thank G‑d I was able to make it through that time as well.

Thank G‑d, I am doing much better now. I am still on medication and see a therapist regularly. But my depression and the fact that I have contemplated suicide in the past are a constant. It’s almost as if I feel the need to be aware at every given moment that this is my challenge, that this is my journey.

I often wonder if one of the reasons that I just can’t seem to get over it is the lack of support for suicide attempt survivors or those who have struggled with suicidal ideation in our community. I even reached out to one of the mental health organizations geared towards Jewish women and was not allowed to join since they are not open to discussing suicide or self-harm. I once heard a nurse who worked in a psychiatric ward say that patients in our community have a much higher return rate. I would venture a guess that this is due to the feelings of loneliness—and therefore unworthiness—that come from dealing with these struggles alone.

Because of my experiences, I realized that changes need to be made, and so, A Drop of Light was born. A Drop of Light is an organization aimed at raising awareness of and preventing suicides within our community. From dispelling common myths to providing information on both Jewish and national mental health organizations, as well as compiling a list of Rabbinic authorities well-versed in the intersection of mental health and halachah, our website is a treasure trove of vital and potentially life-saving information. Without dialogue, there can be no change. And if there is no change, then the risk of losing loved ones to suicide remains all too real. A Drop of Light aims to start that conversation.

What do I hope to gain by going public with my story?

First and foremost, I want others who have struggled or are struggling with mental health—specifically self-harm or suicide—to know that they are not alone. There are others with the same struggles. In my experience, being open only helps. Find that person (or people) you can trust and speak with them. Having someone who checks in on you and keeps you grounded is very important.

The day after my first suicide attempt, my husband sent a letter to the Ohel, begging the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to bless me with a complete recovery. We read many letters the Rebbe wrote to people who were struggling with depression, and the Rebbe consistently suggested learning Sha’ar Habitachon and doing things for others.

Prayer helps, even just speaking to G‑d in your own words. It’s also important to connect with a qualified rabbi who is knowledgeable about mental health and halachah, and can advise you which things you must do and which things can wait while you focus on becoming stable.

Most importantly, keep fighting. If you fall one day, try to get up again the next day. Don’t give up; you are brave, strong, capable, and can make it through this battle.

And now, to everyone else, we need your help: Please, check in on your friends, children, and loved ones. Even a monthly “How are you?” text can be enough. Be genuinely open to hearing and holding space for the other person. Learn the signs of suicidal ideation. Look out for sudden radical changes in behavior. And if you do suspect that your friend is suicidal, don’t be afraid to ask them point blank. Let them know in clear terms that you are there for them, to support without judgment.

Thank G‑d, the last few years have brought much more awareness and openness to the topic of mental health. But suicide and self-harm are still taboo. It should not be this way. If people were more open about the fact that this problem exists, those struggling would be much more inclined to seek help. As it currently stands, admitting to these struggles is a permanent black mark. For this battle to be won, we need all the support we can get. So please, let’s break the silence, stop the judgment, and help each and every person lead a healthy and happy life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to use these resources including on Shabbat or yom tov.

Call 988 or text “HELP” to 741-741

If the thoughts present immediate danger, call 911

For countries out of the USA, it is worthwhile to know your country’s crisis line number

Learn the signs of suicidal ideation: https://www.suicideispreventable.org/