Unfortunately, our lives have all been touched by someone who has taken their own life: a beloved celebrity who hanged himself, a colleague who jumped from the 20th floor, a friend who left the car running in the closed garage, a neighbor’s child who overdosed, or a grandfather who shot himself. This loss of life has a devastating and rippling impact across families and communities. Why? We ask ourselves, could anyone feel so desperate? How could they be so alone? What signs did we miss? and when could we have acted to stop the unstoppable?
Unanswered questions live on when life is gone.
Suicide is a major public health issue, across the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports over 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone with increasing rates in nearly every state.
Factors that contribute to the taking of one’s own life are complex - simple solutions do not suffice. Multifaceted efforts to prevent suicide must be addressed by all members of society. Health professionals have the obligation to aggressively treat and monitor those at risk. The health care system is duty-bound to provide access by training sufficient mental health and primary care providers. Primary school must teach life-long strategies for stress management and each of us must actively work to overcome the stigma of mental health.
Current knowledge of mental health (which is still a science in its infancy) indicates that mental illness is (and therefore should be viewed) no different from diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. So why do we judge those with imbalances in neurotransmitters differently from those with imbalances in pancreatic or adrenal hormones, or abnormalities in vascular or musculoskeletal systems? Stigma prevents society from addressing burnout, anxiety, and depression openly. We are all responsible to de-stigmatize mental health – by not judging ourselves or others for feeling down or sad or for seeking help to manage life’s stresses.
We can begin this conversation by asking ourselves and those we care about - “How do I / you feel today?” Accepting, then exploring all answers including: “disappointed”, “sad”, “lonely”, “angry” “lost” or “suicidal” can change our cultures unrealistic demand for
happiness.” How often do we provide and expect the single syllabus predictable answer - “fine”? Transparency of emotions and willingness to be vulnerable is a subsequent step to opening the door to assistance. Empathy and support of self and others are critical next steps in breaking the stigma; caring is the gift that impedes the cycle of loneliness and despair. Seeking and continuing professional help is a culminating step to averting suicide. Even with these, some will end their lives, but many can be saved.
Collectively we have the greatest power to protect life, which is too precious to be taken away prematurely or purposefully.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.