Our nation has not made the level of investment on a federal level that can have the positive effect on suicide that has happened for the other leading causes of death. —Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
We’ve all known someone who didn’t make it. Suicide hit close to home again a couple of weeks ago when the owner of the restaurant where Kat and I have our infrequent lunch dates decided he couldn’t go on. That was not the first such incident either of us has encountered, though, and the numbers are going up.
Suicide has our attention now. With the release of the CDC’s latest report last week, news and media outlets jumped on the unexpected and alarming news that suicides in the United States have jumped, overall, by a whopping 25 percent since 1999. Statistically, that 25 percent is frightening enough, but when the numbers are broken down into specific groups the fear factor spikes. Just take a look at some of the larger increases:
- Suicide among Native Americans increased a dramatic 89% among women, 36% among men.
- Suicide among white women increased by 60%.
- Suicide among white men increased by 28%.
- Suicide among girls ages 10-14 tripled.
- Both women and men between the ages of 45-60 saw increases of 63% and 43% respectively
There almost seems to be one bright spot in that deaths among black males is one of the few areas that saw a decrease. Oh, but wait, that group has seen a severe increase in homicide over the same period, which more than offsets the suicide statistic.
There’s also a disturbing shift in the mode of suicide. While firearms and poisoning (which includes drug overdose) are still the most common methods, suffocation (hanging) incidents increased by 25 %.
When faced with this topic, the first question out of our mouths is almost always, “why?” The truth is, we don’t always know, but looking at the economic divisions we see that suicides were higher in all age and gender groups where income and economic opportunity were lowest. Even with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, which wasn’t fully implemented until after the study’s end date, availability of mental health care among the poor is exceedingly scarce. The entire psychiatric field relies almost entirely upon insurance receipts and mental health care is one area where insurance companies risk significant loss because of the need for ongoing treatment. Insurance looks to cut its losses by limiting coverage and raising rates, which, in turn, means that those most at risk are least likely to get the help they need.
We also know that there is an increased sense of desperation across the country and social media may be feeding into that problem. Young adults seem to be especially prone to this problem as pressures from parents are high to get a job, even though entry-level positions can be difficult to find. An increase in the importance of standardized testing at school increases the emphasis on academic performance. Meanwhile, when looking at Facebook and Instagram all one seems to see are photos of other people going to concerts and on expensive vacations and buying expensive clothes. This isn’t motivating. Instead, feeling that they are the only ones in their group not succeeding leads to a sense that they never will succeed and might as well stop trying.
Depression is a well-known factor in one’s decision to end their own life, but what we can extrapolate from this study is that the causes of depression are increasing and the depression itself is more severe. Women suffering through long periods of gender and pay inequity increases rates of depression. Repeated loss of employment, long-term unemployment, and seeing their skill set become irrelevant are among the major causes of depression among middle-aged men. General concerns about safety, ability to care for families, pressure to conform to societal standards and the feeling that government isn’t helping are all contributing factors.
With this, our attitudes toward suicide are slowly changing. The death of comedian Robin Williams brought the topic to the forefront of conversation for a moment and we slowly began to realize that the conversation we were having wasn’t the right one. Still, we find ourselves unsure what to do, how to help, or what to say when we fear that someone we know may be suicidal. Based on what we are beginning to understand, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Keep the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your phone: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Be aware of any signs of abuse and/or bullying as these are leading factors across multiple groups
- Don’t be afraid to say something. Posting “I wish I had known” on Facebook after the fact doesn’t help anyone.
- Learn how to listen. Listening, keeping your mouth shut, avoiding platitudes or empty advice, are valuable traits.
- Know what to say. There are numerous resources online to help. You already know someone who needs help. Be ready.
- Suicide is not “the cowards way out,” nor does it negatively affect one’s spiritual situation. Don’t even go there. Guilt doesn’t help.
- Consider how your own actions may be making someone else’s life difficult. The words we say, the way we treat others, are all factors.
Now that suicide has our attention, let’s do what it takes to reverse course. I’m not naive enough to think that every suicide is preventable, but there is a lot we can do to reduce the number. We can no longer feign ignorance or pretend that the issue doesn’t apply to anyone we know. We have an obligation, if not to society, at the very least to our friends to put this issue on the front burner. We don’t have to wait for medical science to come up with a cure. For a significant number of people, we are the cure.
There’s no downplaying the severity of suicide any longer. Now, we do something.