Suzy Favor Hamilton Talks about Her Brother’s Suicide, Facing Her Own Darkness

By: Jonalee Merkel Email
By: Jonalee Merkel Email

Losing a loved one is never easy but losing a loved one to suicide can result in overwhelming pain and confusion.

"My brother Dan was a passionate person. He cared so much about people and he had this personality that was so vibrant,” Suzy Favor Hamilton said. "When I heard the news that Dan had committed suicide I was shocked."

Her brother killed himself September 9, 1999. Dan gained access to the building’s roof and jumped.

Dan was a recovering alcohol, who battled mental illness for many years.

His death was devastating for the entire family. For Suzy, it was almost too much to deal with.

"For me dealing with it was not dealing with it. It was just going on with my life,” she said. "Dan died in '99 and the Olympics for me was in 2000, so to go on it was actually pretty easy because I have to get ready for the next Olympics and my focus just went right to that."

Suzy said she pushed her brother’s death to the side and dealt with it like every other problem she encountered in life – she went for a run. Suzy admits today that probably wasn’t the best decision and may have led to her own depression. She says the first time she realized she might be hiding in her own darkness was when the 2000 Olympic Games finally arrived.

"I was supposed to win the gold medal and in my mind I thought I need to win this medal to make the world happy - to please the world, to please myself, to please my family, to please my family in my brother's honor,” she said.

But the pressure proved to be too much in the final lap of the Women’s 1500 Meter.

"When it came down to 100 meters to go and getting the gold medal, I started having a panic attack where I felt like the world was closing in around me…At that moment, 3 people had just passed me and I was going to come back to the US without a medal and in my mind that wasn't an option,” Suzy recalled. "With 75 meters to go I told myself to just fall, just fall and then you don't have to deal with anything. You won't have to deal with the press and ‘Suzy why didn't you win the gold?’ I would probably deal with the press in a different way. I would deal with them in a pity way. They would be feeling bad for me and I thought at the time that's what I wanted."

But it wasn’t and at that moment Suzy’s life changed. She says that’s when she realized she wasn’t perfect and had some demons of her own to deal with, though transforming herself didn’t happen overnight.

"My life really changed when I had my daughter. It was 2005. This was 6 years after Dan's suicide and this was the first time in my life where I had to deal with my own depression. I had to deal with I have a child now. I'm no longer going to be a professional athlete and competing. I finally have to deal with the real world,” said Suzy. "Dealing with my own depression was a big eye opener and I realized I don't want something to happen like what happened to my brother happen to me and I need to get a grip of my own life and I need to go out and get some help."

Suzy said when she did reach out, got therapy and started talking to others her world changed in an amazing way and the darkness eventually went away.

Now she spends her time speaking to others, encouraging them to get help too.

More than anything she hopes to show people depression can be cured, suicide doesn’t have to be an option and lives can be saved.


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