It was simple happenstance that Remember Henry Harris was published last week during National Suicide Prevention Week. However, it was a poignant coincidence.

Increased awareness can help prevent suicides, but too often in past decades, we as a society have preferred not to talk about this stigmatized subject.

One of the factors affecting awareness is how quickly society often writes off or forgets those who kill themselves. Suicide seems to land its victims in the penalty box of history. That was certainly the case for Henry Harris after he died in 1974 at age twenty-four. As a result, his mother, brothers, sister, and other family members were left in the dark, not only unsure what exactly had happened to Henry some 800 miles away but also with few people to talk to about the tragedy or their loss. And because Harris died by suicide, his courageous achievements for Auburn and for black Americans were soon forgotten.

In an author research interview for Remember Henry Harris, William B. Lawson, a retired Howard University psychiatry professor who has studied suicide, said research has shown that many people who decide to kill themselves are ambivalent. He cited a study of individuals who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. “Most of them said that halfway down to the water they had changed their mind,” Lawson said.

“We also have found that many suicide victims had contacted family or friends or professionals within a month before it happened. So if family and friends could recognize what is going on, we could implement an intervention that could make a difference, but often they are uncomfortable even discussing it,” he said.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) offers these resources:

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Warning signs and risk factors of suicide