‘I do not want anyone else to suffer:’ Congresswoman shares story of partner’s death by suicide to spur awareness
It had been one month since Rep. Susan Wild’s “life partner,” attorney Kerry Acker had died, she told the House chamber on Wednesday night, as legislative business came to a close.
“What most people don’t know,” she revealed, “is that Kerry’s death was a suicide.”
In a brief but impassioned speech last night, Wild (D-Pa.) shared her family’s story as she called for legislators to address the “national emergency” of people coping with mental health issues.
“I do not want anyone else to suffer as he suffered, nor any family to suffer as mine has over the past month,” she explained.
Death by suicide is a leading cause of mortality in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There were more than 47,000 such deaths in 2017, according to CDC data, and the agency notesthat the age-adjusted suicide rate in 2017 was 33 percent higher than it was in 1999.
“Every community in our country has been touched in some sway by major mental health challenges,” she said. “Removing the stigma cannot just be a slogan. We need to make it real through our actions. That means building a future where people truly understand that they should feel no more shame over seeking treatment for this disease than seeking treatment for any other disease or medical condition.”
Wild implored people contemplating suicide to seek help and for their loved ones to not ignore possible warning signs and be proactive about offering help.
After her speech, colleagues rose and issued praise for the congresswoman on social media.
“I could not be more proud of my friend Susan Wild — showing such strength and courage,” fellow Pennsylvania congresswoman Madeline Dean (D) tweeted. “You selflessly channeled your grief into a powerful call to action. This call to action will make a difference in so many lives.”
Her son, Clay Wild, also shared the video of her speech on Twitter and praised her “characteristic courage and confidence.”
Speaking to The Washington Post on Thursday, Wild said that “I have always been the kind of person who finds it therapeutic to act on something or speak on something.”
“Initially I had thought about just writing something,” she said. “And then I realized that I really should use this public position that I have to bring as much awareness to the problem as possible.”
Wild recently co-sponsored of the Higher Education Mental Health Act of 2019, which seeks to address mental health concerns among students. The bill was announced on Wednesday, though not in connection with her speech. The legislation, introduced by Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) would create a commission to study mental health at institutions of higher learning, and to generate a report to the Department of Education about the causes of mental health issues on campus and the challenges of treating them. The commission would also generate a report that outlines the resources currently available to students and makes recommendations to the state and federal governments about how to improve care.
Wild said she was investigating other ways to use her powers as a congresswoman to address mental health. But she said her speech has already begun making a positive impact.
Personal stories poured in from both constituents and strangers on Thursday as footage of her speech spread across Twitter.
“So many of them included their own messages about a family member who had attempted or accomplished suicide,” Wild said. “I actually heard from two people today who are currently struggling right now and that seeing it really made them feel like there was some hope. So, I’m now doing my best to steer these people towards the places they need to go.”
“If one person’s life is saved from seeing it, or their families seeing it,” Wild said, “I will have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.”