For Suicide Prevention Awareness month, we are highlighting a King County employee who has made a huge impact in advancing the conversation around suicide. Wellness Hero Skyler Bridges, Administrative Staff Assistant in Department of Assessments, talks about his experience loosing loved ones to suicide and how he began healing. To read more about dealing with suicide loss, read Suicide Grief: Coping with a Loved One’s Suicide.
Many people have been touched by suicide in one way or another, whether by losing someone to it or struggling with their own ideations. How has suicide affected your life?
I have been touched by suicide more times than I care to admit. When I was 13 was the first time I remember it happening to someone I knew. He was a close family friend and someone I grew up admiring as a good man to look up to. The next time was when I was 24. I received a call that my high school best friend had died by suicide. It was a hard phone call because the person who called and told me about that was his mom, who I considered a second mom growing up. We’re still very close. In 2015 I had a younger cousin who died by suicide. We grew up together and spent a lot of time together. That was the first time I had experienced suicide in my close family. Little did I know this wouldn’t be the last time it hit so close to home. Finally, in 2019 I experienced the hardest one of all. I lost my cousin, who was like a big brother to me, to suicide. He inspired all my music tastes and my clothing style. Someone who I treated as a big brother, which was a big deal because I am the oldest of my siblings. The person who taught me some of my most important life lessons was suddenly gone and took me to a dark place. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, and it kept me up for weeks. Thank goodness I have a supportive spouse who encouraged me to seek therapy; that was the best decision ever made. I am positive that this even saved my life.
Why is observing Suicide Prevention Awareness Month important to you?
It’s essential for me to observe Suicide Prevention Awareness month because I think it’s important to talk about the struggles. I believe that more people need to know that it’s OK not to be OK. I feel it’s essential to do this every day, not just in September. However, Suicide Prevention Awareness month gives more people a reason to notice and think about it.
Why is it important to you to normalize talking openly about suicide?
Talking about suicide and mental health in general will help more people feel like they’re not weird for not being happy all the time. It’s so touching to see this happening more in the media and mainstream TV shows. I need to be at the forefront of this movement and talk about my struggles because you never know who is listening and who you might encourage to seek help.
Are there any resources the county provides that have helped you?
As a matter of fact, yes. I was at work when I found out about my cousin’s death by suicide. The next time I was in the office, my supervisor at the time had left the Making Life Easier (MLE) pamphlet on my desk and had a note that said, “I’m sorry about your loss. I thought this might be helpful for you.” I couldn’t be more thankful for that. It took several weeks, but I finally did reach out to MLE. That is how I found my therapist, whom I still see.
Tell us about the volunteer work you do
In late 2019 I got involved in a Suicide Awareness walk in Seattle. Through that organization, I was able to plan my own special event, which was a motorcycle ride that they promoted and that I posted all over Facebook, and we were able to raise about $2,000! Through advertising my event, another event reached out to me and asked if I could ride my motorcycle behind runners in a 10k, 5k, and 1-mile run/walk event they were putting together for the same organization as my event.
After everything was said and done, they decided that they wanted to be able to have more of a say in the event and decided to start their very own non-profit. They contacted me to be on their board of directors, and I immediately jumped on this opportunity. From January-August, we spent all our free time planning, researching, and searching for this event. We are so proud of how it came together. We did a 10k, 5k, and 1-mile run/walk again, as well as a cornhole tournament, three food trucks, and 52 craft and goods vendors. We learned a lot and can’t wait to improve it for next year, especially since we all care so much about this subject. My team did an amazing job, and our families were all involved, which was great too, because we couldn’t do this event without their support.
To learn more about the importance of destigmatizing mental health, watch these videos with EAP Counselors.
To view the King County employee resources for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, visit this blog post.
Making Life Easier Making Life Easier (MLE): Provides short-term counseling, legal and financial services, support for caregivers, and other daily living supports. Eight free counseling sessions per issue are provided for employees or anyone living in your home. MLE is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visit the MLE website, username kingcounty or call 888-874-7290.
To read about other Wellness Heroes, click here.