Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Inevitably someone else.
I wish I didn’t have to write about this topic anymore. I wish I could say we’re making a widespread difference and reducing the impact of suicide and mental illness on the world’s population. Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, for the past twenty years, suicide rates have increased as much as thirty percent.
That leaves us with the question: what does suicide prevention actually look like? Is it even possible? How do we break from this vicious cycle?
My own experiences with suicide.
I’ve been a mental health advocate for years now. Once I came to terms with my personal struggles with depression, anxiety and anorexia, I found an immense passion for helping others facing similar battles. I wouldn’t wish mental illness on my worst enemy. It’s crippling, painful, and ugly.
Suicide has always made a major impact on my life. I grew up in a small Midwest town known as a suicide capital. Despite the prevalence of suicide, efforts to alleviate the high completion rates were mediocre and half-hearted. I remember too many assemblies discussing bullying and internet usage and too little, if any, mentions of mental health.
While I’ve never had a plan or any one moment when I’ve considered suicide, my thoughts have been on that edge several times. The point of questioning my entire existence, if anybody would miss me if I jumped.
I’m blessed to have the resources and support to keep fighting, but for too many, there’s no other option in their minds. Nothing else can relieve that dull, numbing pain that aches in the recesses of their being. The hope of something else is too distant. That’s where the statistics come into play.
Why increasing rates?
Suicide is a multifaceted problem. We cannot make sweeping generalizations without considering individual circumstances. However, the web interlacing it all is mental illness.
Even as we continue to spread awareness of mental health and promote the hotlines and treatments available, the stigma still exists. It still holds so many people back from reaching out. We think we’re strong enough to take care of everything ourselves, but the most dramatic act of strength is asking for help.
Slightly more than half of people who complete suicide did not have any known mental health condition because they were never diagnosed. Identifying and effectively treating mental illness is a major component in suicide prevention, as are safe storage of guns and pills, social connection, and coping strategies.
With all the time and energy we put toward suicide prevention, it’s not making much of a dent on the numbers. Aren’t we doing the right things? Partially, but there’s more to do.
We’ve lost sight of many important aspects of human nature we desperately need. Online interactions are completely replacing physical connection. We’re constantly distracting and numbing ourselves without giving back. Facades and filters are replacing authentic emotions. We’re struggling to handle the overwhelming stressors in our lives.
What is true suicide prevention?
This is a public health crisis, tens of thousands of people ending their lives and countless more who have at least tried. The suicide prevention efforts thus far haven’t gone unnoticed, but they’ve left out a large number of victims: those who don’t actively ask for help.
The stigma surrounding mental health is a significant roadblock. We need to talk about mental illness like any other chronic condition, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis. We need to expand that stereotypical definition of what we assume mental illness to look like. We need to respect vulnerability and recognize that it’s okay to not be okay.
We can preach and promote the prevention measures in place, memorize the suicide prevention hotline, and recommend all the information we can, but some people will just never take to it. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Also, we can know all the tell-tale signs of someone contemplating suicide, but for many, we’ll never see it coming. People behave and think differently, and the decision to attempt suicide is often made in a very small window of time.
Even those who do seek out help and treatment are still at risk. Kate Spade was treating her depression and anxiety for years, and despite all the hard work and encouragement, all the things in her life many say make her privileged and fortunate, she still completed suicide. This is the equivalent of a patient dying on the operating table, or someone losing a fighting battle with cancer or heart disease. Everything was in place as it “should be,” and it didn’t work.
So, what can we do to truly prevent suicide, besides what we’re already doing? A recent CDC report cites methods such as working to stabilize housing, reducing access to lethal means (yes, this includes stricter gun regulation), and teaching coping and problem-solving skills early in life.
Preventing suicide is promoting life. Simple acts of self-care. A kind word from a loved one or stranger. Long hours breathing in and embracing nature. A wide range of emotions, some good and others uncomfortable. Continual growth and change. Passion. Purpose. Challenge. Suffering.
Despite all of this, there’s nothing in the world worth ending your life over. Nothing. For every atrocity and disaster, there is a moment of pure joy and beauty. With darkness always comes light.
You might say otherwise after watching thirty minutes of the evening news, or stepping outside, or dwelling in your own thoughts. I’m not saying it’s easy; what I am saying is that you’re here for a very specific purpose. You’re here for a reason. You’re not just taking up space. You’re not alone. These affirmations may feel cliche or unbelievable, but they’re true.
Now it’s time to turn those affirmations into actions. Every community needs reliable, easily accessible mental health resources for all kinds of mental illness, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and addiction. We all need open discussions about mental and emotional health. There needs to be more stringent gun control. We need better tools to manage our increasingly stressful lives.
All of these changes must happen as soon as possible. Lives are at risk. And these aren’t just celebrity lives: they’re the lives of your neighbors, family members, friends, even yourself. Let’s do more, and let’s not stop until we see true suicide prevention.
What can you do today to help prevent suicide?
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie