Op-ed by U.S. Rep. Susan Wild: ‘I can only make sense of the loss of my partner in life if I can save someone else’s life’

June 30, 2019
In The News

I didn’t run for Congress thinking that suicide prevention and awareness would be a cornerstone of my platform. Yes, I was aware of the pressing problem of veteran suicide, and that the number of suicides has increased dramatically. Never, however, did I think that this issue would become so very personal to me. Sadly, on May 25th, it did. On that day, the person who was my best friend, confidante, and partner in life, took his own life.

I cannot begin to describe the impact of receiving a phone call from an unknown police officer, telling me that my beloved had committed suicide. Disbelief was my first reaction, so much so that I thought it was a prank call. Fairly quickly, however, my mind gathered the warning signs that had existed, and which, sadly, I did not act upon with enough urgency.


For those who think I am assigning blame to myself for this act, and who have rushed to reassure me that there was nothing I could have done to stop this act of madness, you should know I have gotten to a place of peace in terms of my role. Because I now realize that without specific training in mental health, we cannot recognize and act on the warning signs, unless we learn more.


So it has become a new part of my mission to do as much good as I can in this public position I now occupy. Having only recently experienced this tragic loss, I am not yet an expert on the subject. However, I intend to become one. I can only make sense of the loss of my partner in life if I can save someone else’s life, and, just as importantly, can save another family from the devastation of losing their loved one to suicide.


And so, on the one-month anniversary of his death, I hesitantly decided to go public by making a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.


The reaction has been overwhelming and positive. The secretary of Veteran Affairs called me after my speech and asked me to discuss with him the pressing issue of veteran suicides. But more importantly, I have heard from dozens of people — from the 7th District and beyond — telling me their own personal stories of suicidal ideation, loss, survivorship. There are so many voices out there who must be heard, and so many silent strugglers who must be found and helped. I’m only just beginning this mission.


With that, I share with you the speech I gave on the House floor this past week:


"As some are aware, today marks the one-month anniversary of the death of my beloved life partner, Kerry Acker. What most people don’t know is that Kerry’s death was a suicide.


"Kerry was 63 years old. He shouldn’t have had a care in the world. He was financially secure, and had a warm, loving family and dozens of friends. He loved them all. And yet, incomprehensibly, he seemingly did not grasp the toll his absence would have on those who loved him.


"Why am I sharing this very personal story? Because we all need to recognize that mental health issues know no boundaries. I do not want anyone else to suffer as he suffered, nor any family to suffer as mine has over the past month.


"This is a national emergency. In 2017, there were more than 47,000 suicides in this country, and more than 1.4 million suicide attempts. Across our country, suicides rose by 30 percent between 1999 and 2018. Behind these numbers are grieving partners and spouses, parents and children, siblings, friends and relatives. Every community in our country has been touched in some way by major mental health challenges.


"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 they would seeking treatment for any other disease or medical condition.


"To anyone out there who is struggling: I’m urging you to reach out. There are people who love you and who will suffer more than you know if they lose you. Help is available 24/7 through 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK.


“To anyone who is concerned about someone in their lives, please pick up the phone or take that drive to go see them. Don’t wait.”