Suicide makes me mad. Those might sound like strange and strong words from a therapist who normally counsels understanding and forgiveness, but I can’t ignore the emotional response for two reasons.
First, therapists are all too aware that one suicide often leads to others. Whether it’s the highly publicized death of a beloved celebrity or news that someone from our community, our church, or any of our circles took his or her own life, a suicide may convince someone who’s struggling in the dark to see a similar action as an escape. It’s not.
Second, every suicide is a vivid reminder of a loss from my own life. Someone very close to me sought to escape her own despair by ending her life. It’s profoundly sad that she didn’t see other options, but what’s even sadder is the legacy of hurt and loss it left with those of us left behind.
When someone dies through a suicide, the reaction is usually shock and surprise. She seemed to be so happy. He had everything you could want in life. She had a loving family. I had no idea he was troubled. Why did she do this? Who was at fault? What could I have done differently? But if we’re going to prevent suicides, we have to begin by developing a realistic understanding of them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that suicide rates across America have jumped by 30 percent since 1999. It’s become the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Many people assume that depression is the primary reason, and it had been diagnosed in about half the cases. The most common risk factors are prior suicide attempts, personal or family history of substance use or mental illness, chronic pain, family violence, and guns in the home.
The most important thing to understand is that suicide does not discriminate, and thoughts about suicide are not limited to a few easily defined groups of people. It can happen to nearly anyone at any stage in life. We’re learning more about the relationship between the brain and the body all the time (and we still have a long way to go), but we know that someone who previously wasn’t at risk may become suicidal because of life experiences. Financial problems, significant health issues, workplace stresses, and troubled relationships don’t lead directly to suicide, but they’re factors that can contribute to the sense of overwhelming despair that may lead someone to that decision.
The good news about suicide is that it’s nearly always preventable. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not weaknesses. They’re not personal flaws. And they can be reduced and even eliminated with the right mental health support and treatment. But people who are in that degree of despair may not be able to reach out on their own, so it’s important that others in their lives pay attention and take action when they suspect help is needed. Let me write that again – people in that degree of despair most often will not reach out for help, so it is up those around them to help.
So what does all of this mean and what can you do?
I have four favors to ask you:
- Please don’t treat suicide or suicidal thoughts as a personal flaw or a reason to shun or criticize someone. They’re not.
- Don’t obsess or gossip about why or how someone committed suicide. Focus instead on how you can keep others from doing the same and what you can do to support the loved ones who are hurting from the loss.
- If you suspect that someone is struggling, ask if you can help. This is a matter where we need to be willing to feel a little uncomfortable stepping in because those we love are worth intervening. It’s better to ask a tough question now than regret not having asked it after it’s too late. And if your loved one assures you they are okay, don’t just drop it and move on. Set your calendar to check in again on a regular basis, until you are convinced they really are doing well.
- If someone tells you they’re thinking about suicide or even jokes about killing themselves, take it seriously. Urge them to call someone or text 741741 for help. If you’re not sure what to do, text 741741 and they’ll provide guidance and connect you with resources.
And if you’re reading this because you’ve been struggling with thoughts that suicide may bring you peace, please call or text us. 317-790-9396. Or better yet, please come talk to us. I know that you’re probably feeling overwhelmed and that it can be hard to reach out, but before you make any decisions or spend another day in the darkness, reach out to us. We know there’s hope, we know there are reasons to live and we want to help you discover this for yourself.
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