March 31, 2020

A Suicide Survivors Response to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson

Dear Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson,

As a widow whose husband died by suicide, a woman who has struggled with depression, a friend to so many whose loved ones have died and to those who struggle with mental health issues, I just wanted to share my thoughts after reading your USA Today Op Ed.

I don’t usually write about politics, instead I write about mental health awareness, surviving grief and hope. I don't care to read about it on social media, but your Op Ed crossed a line into lives for dollars and that I do have an opinion on.

In your USA Today Op Ed dated March 30, 2020, you wrote “each year approximately 48,000 Americans commit suicide and an estimated 67,000 die of drug overdose. That level of individual despair has occurred in a strong economy with near-record low levels of unemployment in virtually every demographic. Imagine the potential psychological and human toll if this shutdown continues indefinitely, unemployment reaches 20% or higher, as some now predict, and we sink into a deep recession or depression.”

Senator Johnson, what does suicide and drug overdose have to do with unemployment? Are you implying people will take their lives when unemployment reaches 20% or higher? Will opening businesses at a time when the CDC is begging us to stay home to save a life help those struggling with mental health conditions not take their own life? I’m confused as to why you even brought up suicide and drug overdose in your article? What is your point?

I’d like to share with you some things I have learned about suicide, depression and mental health.

1.     According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s Top 10 Tips for Reporting on Suicide  (
a.     There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
b.     Do not use the word “committed,” instead, use “died by suicide” or “took his/her life.”
c.     Avoid reporting that a suicide death was “caused” by a single event, since research shows no one takes their life for one single reason, rather a combination of factors (which you can learn about at – reporting a “cause” leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.
d.     Always provide helpline information –if you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or TEXT TALK to 741741.
Depression is a medical disease. There are DSM codes doctors and insurance companies must use when diagnosing mental health conditions. The FDA approves medication for depression and other mental health disorders. Doctors give patients medication for these diseases, just like they do for high blood pressure, lupus and cancer. According to TIME, clinical depression affects about 16 million people in the U.S. and global revenue for antidepressants is projected to grow to nearly $17 billion by 2020 (Time, Aug. 15, 2017). Some of the key players in the antidepressant drug market include Eli Lily ($LLY), Forest Laboratories ($FRX), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Pfizer (NYSE PFE). I guess the FDA approving drugs to help those with depression and the drug makers making them is currently helping the economy as these pharmaceutical companies are traded on the New York Stock Exchange and are in many of our mutual fund and stock portfolios.

Senator Johnson, you go on to to say “Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life.”

Is this your message for the family and friends of the 3,178 people in the US who have died from the coronavirus? 

Are you telling the 176,518 people infected who are probably scared of dying and the health care workers risking their lives to save lives their death is no big deal? 

Are you telling all of us Americans who are doing our part social distancing and staying home from our jobs that the long term economic gain to open businesses now is more important than our family and neighbors lives? 

Are you going to tell every suicide survivor and family who lost a loved one to a drug overdose that you didn’t mean to add to the stigma and minimize our loved ones mental struggles and death in your Op Ed?

Please know your facts and do your research on suicide before you pen a letter where you single out and add to the stigma of those who struggle with mental health conditions and have lost their lives or loved ones to suicide.

As a woman who was born in Wisconsin, was raised and raised her children in Wisconsin and moved across the country to Connecticut to escape the stigma of suicide, I have to say I am thankful I am not your constituent and your opinions don’t represent mine or my compassionate, empathetic family and friends who still reside in the beautiful state of Wisconsin.

Empathy and kindness matters. 
Social distancing matters.
Saving lives matters.
Knowing the facts matters.
Not adding to the stigma matters.
Can't we all do our part?


Sandra Began

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 
at 1-800-273-8255 or TEXT TALK to 741741.