Every September, people around the country recognize National Suicide Prevention Month. But we need to continue the conversation the rest of the year, and that’s why today I’ve decided to speak out about my son’s suicide.
Two years ago, I was sitting on the porch swing with my 20-year-old son Brennen – a vibrant, smart, talented and motivated college student. But he looked tired that day. His eyes were weary.
That day plays over and over again in my mind. It was my last day with my son.
Living in Federal Way as a school administrator and foster parent to 52 children, I have worked with students experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction crises, rape, assault, suicidal ideation and self-harm.
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My experience helped me recognize a month earlier when Brennen, a graduate of Tacoma School of the Arts and a sophomore at Portland State University, was not acting like himself.
So, I went to him; “Whatever it is, we can handle it,” I assured him. He told me he was struggling with a new addiction to cocaine.
With the support of family, Brennen completed a 51-minute required phone intake to access mental health and addiction services. Unfortunately, their first available in-person intake appointment wasn’t for 29 days. We called daily to see if there was a cancelation, but there was nothing sooner.
That day on the front porch swing was five days before his appointment. I took Brennen’s face in my hands. I said everything a mother would want to say had she known it was her last moments with her son. He assured me he was just tired and would go to bed as soon as he finished texting his girlfriend.
The next day, Brennen drove to a pawn shop. My 20-year-old son legally bought a 12-gauge shotgun in less than five minutes. He then walked across the street to a Sportsman’s Warehouse and, for the price of a Happy Meal ($4.99) he purchased bullets.
Within the next hour my beautiful son lay dead in the Tillamook forest.
Nearly 58 people die by gun suicide in our country every single day. That averages to more than 21,000 Americans who die by gun suicide every year.
In America, access to a gun during a period of personal crisis can be the difference between life and death. Suicide is often an impulsive act, and it is often caused when needed help is delayed.
Research shows that those who survive a suicide attempt and get help are unlikely to try again. Since attempts with a gun are almost always deadly, access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide. In my son’s case, it was easier to get a gun than to access mental health care and addiction medicine.
Last year I joined the Everytown Survivor Network to advocate for Initiative 1491, a ballot measure creating extreme-risk protection orders in our state.
These orders empower a person’s immediate family members, or law enforcement, to petition a court to temporarily suspend the person’s access to guns if the person is at risk to himself or others. Thankfully, Washington voters supported this measure, and it is now law.
The passage of I-1491 was an important victory – and will save the lives of many Washingtonians. Connecticut has its own version of an extreme-risk protection order, and it has been linked to a reduction in suicides.
As we conclude National Suicide Prevention Month, I urge everyone to talk to neighbors, friends, teachers, children and legislators about what we can all do better throughout the year to help save lives.
Rachel Smith-Mosel of Federal Way is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.