TEXAS – Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of those top ten causes that’s increasing every year. A Texas veteran is working to spread awareness after two loved ones died by suicide in recent years.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Symptoms of mental conditions found in 90 percent of people who died by suicide
- Second leading cause of death among people age 10-34
Aaron Cabrera served 10 years in the military, including two deployments to Iraq. Since then he’d been serving peers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I've had those thoughts, especially with PTSD and things like that, I've lost quite a few - one too many friends to suicide,” says Cabrera. “I was trained to see the signs, right? But I didn't see the signs in my own home.”
Cabrera’s 14-year-old son died by suicide two years ago.
“My son Diego had an amazing heart,” Cabrera said. “He was always thinking about other people; he was always making sure everybody was okay. He adored his little brother – and it goes to show you, that even though a child may have these strong connections to somebody else, they still might think that this is an option for them to do. He knew he wasn't going to be around for Jack anymore, but there was still something there that said, 'I need to do this.'”
After the death of his son, Cabrera isolated himself for the next nine months. Most days, he couldn't get out of bed.
“I have a buddy of mine, he said from his bed to his shower is 13 steps, when he's dealing with that sort of thing, depression, it helps him count those steps because it doesn't seem like such a daunting task to get out of bed," Carbrera says.
And it was Cabrera’s friends who helped him survive that first year. But as he was getting back on his feet, catching his breath, it all got taken away from him again.
“Almost a year and a half later, my mother died by suicide," Cabrera says. “She had threatened something on Facebook about it happening, and then a month later, it happened.”
Dr. Charles Nemeroff, the chair of the Psychiatry Department at UT Dell Medical School, says between 35 and 40 percent of the risk of developing depression is genetic, and most people who commit suicide are battling some form of depression.
“Suicide runs in families, like eye color, and hair color, and temperament,” says Dr. Nemeroff.
Nemeroff adds people 65 and older used to be the most at risk, but today the suicide rate among young people is going up faster than it is for any other group.
“Adolescence is a very intense emotional time. As older adults we tend to forget what it was like to be 14,” Dr. Nemeroff says.
For parents who know depression runs in the family, he says it's crucial to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to a change in behavior.
“Like has there been a dramatic drop in grades? Is the individual more isolated socially than they have been in the past? Have they lost interest in usual actives, fun things to do?” Dr. Nemeroff says.
And as soon as you start seeing those changes, he says, “Get help, and there's a lot of help to be gotten.”
It's been more than two years since Cabrera’s son’s last breath and almost one year since his mother’s.
Some days, he says the pain is too much to bear.
“You know I used to say to myself, ‘I just want this pain to go away.’ Then you start feeling guilty about saying that, like, ‘Why would I want this pain to go away? I want to feel it.' That's my little boy,” said Cabrera.
Other days he finds a reason to keep going, such as his youngest son who was 5 when his brother died.
“My son, my 7-year-old, that's my anchor. And the people who I want to reach – I can't do that if I'm not around,” said Cabrera.
He’s currently in the process of starting a nonprofit in his son's memory, called Diego's Wish, so he can keep helping others.
The main goal is to reduce suicide numbers but he also wants to support families that have gone through what he did.
“Just be there,” he explains. “Not be there to fix anything, ‘cause there's nothing to fix. But just be there to listen, and say, 'Listen, I got this. Go in your closet like you want to and cry your eyes out.’”
Cabrera still has those days himself and knows he always will, but he says his purpose in life has changed.
If depression is something you’re battling right now, or someone you know is struggling, help is out there, and you can visit afsp.org for resources.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.