Content warning: Suicide
Beth Nyguard remembers a several-month stretch in 2012 when she was working in a high-stress environment and feeling constant anxiety. Her husband, Chris, didn’t seem to take it seriously. He told her to accept it and move on. Nyguard did.
But what she didn’t know then was her husband was dealing with a mental illness of his own.
Nyguard now can see clues that her husband was struggling. He loved his family but never planned to live long. Nyguard learned he even talked about suicide in college. He was always a slightly reserved person, so when he became more withdrawn in 2016 and early 2017, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary.
On Feb. 12, 2017, Chris said he wasn’t feeling well and left his parents’ house. He never returned home. Chris took his own life.
“He never talked about it. It was a complete shock,” Nyguard said. “In retrospect, I can see things were bothering him that he never talked about. I realized that’s what he always did. He sucked it up because that’s what men do.”
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Nyguard believes stigma played a big role in her husband’s suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men died by suicide 3.56 times more often than women in 2018. Mental Health America reports 6 million men are affected by depression in the United States every single year.
“There’s this stigma about mental health, and there’s a stigma with suicide. It needs to go away,” Nyguard said. “Because of this stigma, there’s always someone to blame. But it’s a disease, and if we knew it was a disease, just like cancer or any other health issue, people would more proactive in helping people get help.”
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Nyguard and her husband had two children together. She’s had careers in human resources and financial planning, but hasn’t worked in the last year because of the stress and grief from her husband’s death.
Following Chris’ death, Nyguard sought therapy for her family which was comforting, she said. However, she was living in a small town in Iowa at the time and rumors about her husband’s death exacerbated her grief.
In the past year, Nyguard, 44, moved to Waukee, and things have been steadily become better. The grief is still fresh, but she found respite in her children, who are now teenagers.
“There’s this stigma about mental health, and there’s a stigma with suicide. It needs to go away."
Her piece of advice for those who want to help individuals with mental illness: Open your ears. You might be able to help someone who is struggling.
“I want people to know what it’s OK to not be OK,” Nyguard said. “It’s OK to talk about your feelings — that stigma needs to change. Start listening to the people around you. Chris was probably never going to tell me [he planned to take his life] because I would stop him. But they might let their guard down in another form.”
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.