MINOT, N.D. — By the time I graduated from high school, my class had seen multiple suicides, including one of my friends.
This summer we celebrated our 20-year reunion. The happiness of the occasion was tempered by a sad accounting of the half dozen or so suicides - some only suspected - among our classmates since graduation.
To put these numbers into context, the national suicide rate in 2017 was about 14 per 100,000 people.
North Dakota’s rate was about 20 per 100,000.
My class is large, by North Dakota standards, but still just over 600 people.
Our suicide rate is in excess of the norm.
I was almost a part of it.
For about a year in my early 20s, I wanted to die.
I made reckless decisions, usually with alcohol. I woke up many mornings feeling hungover and awful. Sick physically and with disappointment, both at how I’d behaved the night before and that I was still breathing.
As I write this there is only one other person in the world who knows how close I came to ending my own life. Once I submit this column there are some phone calls I’ll have to make to loved ones to say some things I probably should have a long time ago.
I am revealing this to you because it’s National Suicide Prevention Week. A time when we are to raise awareness about mental health and hopefully remove some of the stigmas around them.
This can be an issue for anyone. Even your local columnist.
What terrifies me is that I didn’t realize until years later what I was trying to do.
Had you asked me at the time if I was suicidal, or struggling with mental health, I would have laughed at you.
I should have sought help.
I chose the white-knuckle route, and I am certain it is only by chance, pure dumb luck, I’m alive to write these words for you.
More than 100 Americans kill themselves every day. It is the 10th most common cause of death in our country. It is third among 15 to 24-year-olds; fourth among 25 to 44-year-olds.
Male suicide rates are more than triple the female rates.
As I’ve already mentioned, North Dakota’s suicide rate is significantly higher than the national rate.
The problem is real and pervasive and particularly acute in our part of the world.
If you are struggling, please seek help.
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
You can contact a mental health professional. If you’re concerned about the cost, check your health benefits. They might cover more than you realize, and some employers (including mine) provide a level of free access to counseling.
There is also public assistance available. Finding it is as easy as dialing 211 on your phone.
No matter how bad it seems there are people around you who love you. Reach out to them. Share what you’re going through.
I wish I had.
Whatever you do, don’t be ashamed. Life, however hard, is worth living.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.