Permission to Speak Freely: End the Shame and Stigma

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According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It was responsible for more than 47,500 deaths in 2019. In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted suicide.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual Town Hall with U.S. Mission Nigeria and U.S. Embassy Nairobi Employees and Family Members, April 9, 2021:

“We had the recent news of the death of a member of our State Department family on temporary assignment in Kenya, which is deeply saddening and distressing, and a reminder of how important it is for us to be there for each other and to seek help if we need it without shame.  The global authorized departure policy meant that many of you were separated and isolated from your family members as well as from each other, and Kenya is dealing with heightened security concerns.  In Lagos and Abuja, your movements outside the city centers are restricted, now even more so.”

This is the closest the secretary of state come to acknowledging the reported suicide of a State Department employee in Kenya (see US Embassy Kenya: USG Employee Found Deceased at a Nairobi Hotel). We understand that a diplomatic courier assigned at a post in Germany, temporarily stayed two weeks at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, prior to his next permanent assignment in Nairobi. He was found deceased at the hotel on April 7, 2021.
We don’t know how people can “seek help if we need it without shame” if the top official could not even give what happened in Kenya a name. Somebody died. True. It was “saddening and distressing”.  True. But we can help by acknowledging what happened there has a name and it has its own realities. A struggle in a dark world of  despair and hopelessness that is as real to those who suffer as the great blue skies you and I live in.
The fight to make it every day, to keep going despite the pain is a valiant battle. We need to remember that the fight is often painful, solitary, and seemingly hopeless. To get rid of shame and end the stigma, we need to talk about this in the open, not in whispers, not by skirting its name. But it has to start at the top. Otherwise, as a blog pal once asked, What FSO is going to risk losing their security clearance by going to MED and saying they are thinking about suicide?” 
Read: 5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked
Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Suicide
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call 1-800-273-8255.
If you are overseas, please seek help by calling or visiting the health unit or call the Military Crisis Line  or a local Suicide Hotline .

 

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@StateDept Adds 71 Historical Names to Memorial Plaque on #ForeignAffairsDay #ExceptSuicide

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On Foreign Affairs Day, the State Department added 71 names to the Memorial Plaque located in the lobby of the State Department. AFSA maintains the plaque. According to AFSA, the plaque’s establishment grew out of AFSA’s efforts in the late 1920s and early 1930s to establish a “Roll of Honor” naming colleagues who had died in the line of duty while serving overseas, including due to violence, natural disasters, tropical diseases, and accidents during official travel. Please click here to view the criteria for inclusion in the plaque. If you wish to submit a name for consideration, please fill out this form. Read more here.
According to WaPo, the honorees fall into two general categories: 58 died overseas before 1933 and had been forgotten, and 13 died overseas between 1938 and 1971 and had been previously overlooked or excluded.
Current AFSA President Ambassador Eric Rubin said that “In honoring them we honor all of the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service who serve their country in, at times, very difficult circumstances and conditions and give of themselves in the true tradition of public service.”
The WaPo piece also said that “Those who died overseas by suicide, natural causes or while doing something illegal are still not eligible …. and anyone in the Foreign Service who died overseas of the coronavirus would not be eligible since it is a worldwide pandemic.”
We’re wondering how many more names would be added if we count suicide for the Memorial Plaque?
If Foreign Service employees are considered on duty 24/7, shouldn’t deaths that occurred while on official order count on the memorial plaque? The criteria for consideration includes a note that also says “Deaths involving the decedent’s illegal, negligent, reckless, or selfish behavior are not eligible for inclusion.”
Besides the fact that suicide could be “due to disease related to particular circumstances of overseas assignment“, isn’t it time to recognize that suicide is not/not a selfish choice? This view contributes to the misunderstanding of mental illness.” In ‘Don’t Say It’s Selfish: Suicide Is Not a Choice’, a clinical psychologist writes that “suicide is not a personal weakness or someone’s “fault,” …. suicide is often a product of mental health and environmental variables that we don’t fully comprehend.”  It is time to rethink this.

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