The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 900,000 people worldwide will take their own lives this year. Indeed, nearly half of all violent deaths are self-inflicted, and the problem is growing. In the United States, public health organizations they've declared May 5 through 11 to be National Suicide Awareness Week. It's not just about reaching people who would kill themselves. It's about helping the friends and loved ones left behind in suicide's wake. VOA's Adam Phillips spoke with a New York musician who has used music and song to recover from the trauma of his girlfriend's suicide.
Erik Hendin is 30-years-old, but his boyish good looks make him appear even younger. Still, his eyes express the sadness of one who has suffered a very long time. It has been two years since his girlfriend Stevie hung herself. She was 18-years-old. "Well, Stevie was so many things. I met her down in Texas and that is where she lived. She just had a really free spirit and she was very young. Beautiful. So intelligent," he says. "A very sensitive and caring individual. Everyone that met her liked her. She was beautiful. I hate to say it again, it's just true!" Although Stevie had attempted suicide twice before, Mr. Hendin was shocked and devastated when she finally succeeded. Here is an excerpt from his song Disappear, one of his first attempts to come to terms with his loss, through music. "Everybody grieves differently. There is a lot of numbness for me, maybe four or five months, there is just a real air of unreality about the whole thing and numbness, kind of going through the emotions. But it's almost a protector," he says. "You can't take something like this in all at once. There is really no time limit either. And then there was a real feeling of horror processing the whole thing."
Erik says that sometimes the pain got so bad he contemplated suicide himself. "Not going through it alone is crucial. That people know, especially people suffering depression or who are having suicidal thoughts, that they are not alone and there is nothing wrong with them for having those thoughts. There is this whole shame or stigma added on that makes it even harder for people who are already troubled."
Mr. Hendin wrote the song Trauma Guilt, about six months after Stevie's death. Mr. Hendin says his emotions vacillated between overwhelming anger and crushing guilt during this time. "I was very very angry in the beginning, feeling left in that situation. It is a very violent act. And I think anger is one of the toughest emotions to deal with because how can someone be angry at someone who has died and who has taken their own life? The person who did it obviously had some notion that this was the only way they could resolve their problems. Usually they don't want to die," he says. "They just don't know how to live."
Erik continued to work on his music, often alone and late into the night. He says that expressing himself through his songs and networking with others who were coping with loss in their own ways, pulled him through. "The thing that changed was I got tired of being ashamed. I realized I wanted people to know what happened to Stevie and to me and to everyone that knew her so that other people might not have to go through this alone and that other people might be able to get help. Eventually I started to talk about and sing about what I was going through. That snowballed. I realized how important it was. I went to a Survivors Retreat. And from that point on, that made a difference," he says.
Eventually, Erik wrote and recorded I'm A Survivor, the song for which he has become best known. That is when saw some light began to pour through his sorrow. "For me light isn't just something which has no darkness in it. It's healing. It's acknowledging the darkness. And it's a tragic, tragic gift in a sense. I hate to put it that way, but it just brings you to a different level of richness in your perception," he says. "But the song is really about my living my life and moving forward. And the spirit inside her, it still continues to give me strength. It does. Tomorrow came and here I am."
There's more about Erik Hendin at his website, at www.erikhendin.com. The site also provides links to groups offering suicide counseling.