"No one saw it coming. It was a total shock.” You will often hear these types of statements being made after a death by suicide. There is a truth of sorts to these statements, because someone taking their own life (or attempting to) can feel shockingly sudden. It can feel like a totally unexpected event, like a train coming off the tracks. However, as unexpected as something like a train derailment is there are root causes. A quick bit of research reveals that a train coming off the tracks occurs when one or more situations present themselves including a cracked track, deficiently lubricated wheels, or improper operation of controls. In the nineteenth century derailment was actually quite common. However with improved safety measures and procedures they have decreased significantly. In 1980 there were over 3,000 derailments but with advocates to new measures this number dropped dramatically over the next few years and in 2010 there were less than 500.
When a suicide occurs loved ones are left behind in mourning often partnered with shock. As the shock settles they are left with questions. Many begin to retrace steps and question if there was more that could have been done or something they missed. Loss survivors often become the greatest advocates for suicide prevention after discovering the truth behind the causes and solutions behind suicide and work endlessly to honor their loss through positive change. Suicide or suicide attempts, like train derailments, occur when one or more situations present themselves such as uncared for depression, increased abuse of substances, and feelings of burden to others. These symptoms almost always present themselves as warning signs, but the general public and health professionals have such little education on the subject that suicide statistics haven’t faired as well. Seemingly as a staple for the number 10 spot on the leading causes of death in the US, death by suicide is not on the decline. In 1980 there were over 26,000 suicides recorded and by 2012 that number had almost doubled to over 40,000. In fact, when the CDC released stats last year, although it was still at number 10, suicide was the only cause of death on the list that had increased from the previous year. That’s right. While unintentional injuries remained the same, 8 of the 10 causes of death (ex. heart disease, cancer, diabetes) decreased significantly, and suicide was on the rise. However, that isn’t the only thing that sets suicide apart from the pack.
The word suicide itself strikes a different cord with the general public than most causes of death on the list. We see commercials on TV for how to best care for diabetes, we can get free flu shots at local clinics, we have cancer treatment centers in most major cities, and we discuss what we should or shouldn’t eat or drink to lower our risk for heart disease. However, when someone mentions suicide the conversation takes a different tone that is often mystical, as if this cause of death is completely different or incomprehensible. This nature of conversation is only compounded by people’s misunderstandings, opinions, judgements, and fear of the unknown. Soon other undesirable words may emerge such as selfish, unpreventable, crazy, or the aforementioned unpredictable. This is, of course, assuming that conversations of any nature even take place. The issue of suicide, which ends the life of 105 Americans a day, is often met with silence.
The negative language and silence surrounding suicide creates stigma that is in a word: dangerous. It enforces a deadly myth that it is unpreventable or beyond solution. It shrouds suicide in mystery and intrigue in ways that prevent someone who is struggling to seek help or pursue hope. And perhaps even more dangerous, it gives a perfect excuse for the general public, the suicidal person’s community, to avoid learning more about how they can help change things.
Suicide IS one of the most preventable causes of death, a fact supported by last year’s finding from WHO (World Health Organization). The key is getting help or giving help as early as possible. Like a train at risk of derailment it is important to spot the warning signs of suicide risk (ex. sudden change in behavior or circumstances, statements of hopelessness, increased substance abuse, etc.). The more signs present the greater the risk. From there the people around the situation, the community, need to know how to improve safety measures and confidently take steps towards prevention. This all essentially means one thing, we all need to be willing to learn about suicide prevention and start taking action to change things.
Over 2015 Live Again will be providing public trainings, discussing other mental health issues, posting blogs/videos about self care and the care of others, talking with survivors of loss and survivors of attempts, distributing resources in communities of all types, and holding positive community events for one reason: to start conversations. Silence and stigmas are killers. Caring and knowledgable conversations can be life savers. And if you have the opportunity to start a life saving conversation with someone you know, don’t you want to?
Leading Causes of Death 2012: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/pdf/leading_causes_of_death_by_age_group_2012-a.pdf
1980 compared with 2007 statistics: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2010/026.pdf
Suicide Facts at a Glance: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide_datasheet-a.pdf
WHO Suicide is Preventable: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2004/pr61/en/
Train Derailment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derailment