I would love to be able to write only happy, upbeat blogs, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not a reality for many individuals. The purpose of my blog is to create a relatable space for my readers.
Unfortunately, for many people in our world, each day brings enormous emotional pain and suffering to a degree which is impossible to imagine if you have not experienced it yourself. Each days is a struggle, some worse than others. The toll is huge on the individual and on loved ones who feel hopeless and helpless. For an increasing number of people in our society, statistics show that this suffering results in death by suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the US and only one of three of the most common causes of death that show increased rates when compared to previous years. In 25 states between 1999 and 2016, the rate of suicide rose more than 30%.
So what is happening? Is our society falling apart? Stress is catching up with more people? Maybe the concept of suicide is becoming more acceptable or at least less stigma is attached to it? Maybe it is “catching” or at least there is some copycat phenomenon? Certainly the existence of “Death with Dignity” laws in multiple states indicates shifting norms and even the verbiage is changing. It is no longer ok to say that someone “committed suicide” as if it was a shameful crime. Instead, as described in an article written by a physician exhorting her peers to change their verbiage, we need to recognize that suicide is medical condition. More appropriate phrasing would be “death by suicide” or to say that someone “died of suicide.”
The answer to questions regarding the increasing suicide rate seems to be multidimensional and complex. One problem in the United States may be, as pointed out in this article on “How Suicide Quietly Morphed Into a Public Health Crisis”, no one person in government is assigned responsibility and accountability for figuring out how to reduce deaths by suicide the way individuals are for deaths due to traffic accidents or homicides.
Understanding what drives an individual to contemplate suicide has always been a challenge and has created its own stigma. This lack of understanding leads people to assume that it is a weakness. The implication has been that the person who chose this path is weaker in some way. Casting those aspersions and characterizations reflects a lack of understanding of what drives people to commit this irrevocable and painful act. Increasing understanding and awareness will promote greater empathy and hopefully help to avert more suicides before they happen. This article, published in the Chicago Tribune, offers a nuanced description that helps to explain why the “decision” to pursue death by suicide is not a simple one and why we shouldn’t blame either the victim, or ourselves. It promotes the compassion and understanding for all parties that are important to changing how we view and hopefully help to reduce the rising suicide trend.
I suspect that each of us, at a minimum, knows someone who has been impacted by suicide, or who has struggled with thoughts of suicide. There have been a plethora of articles and posts recently about what to do if you know someone who may be considering this and how you can help them. Here is just one put out by the Mayo Clinic, that is short and simple and provides hotline numbers. I urge you to read it. Share it with others. Follow the suggestions if you know someone who may be showing any of these signs. Make sure they know that they are not alone and that there are people who can and want to help. And remember that you are NOT responsible for their actions.
On a more intimate level, we each need to understand that when death by suicide occurs with someone you are close to, it impacts you too. In a BIG way! Please talk to a professional. Survivor guilt is a real phenomenon affecting friends and loved ones who feel that they own responsibility in some way for not preventing the act of suicide. In truth, the best thing that you can do as a friend is to urge someone to get help, give them access to professionals through hotlines, take them to the ER or other appropriate resources. Other than that, we are each responsible for our own actions. In the aftermath of a loved one’s death, it is very normal to feel guilt, anger and/or depression. These emotions will come and go to greater and lesser degrees over time, as usually occurs during the grieving process. You may find it helpful to consult with a therapist or find a support group. There are some specifically for those who have been affected by suicide. Going through your own grieving feels even more intense when your loved one “caused” his or her own death for a reason that you cannot begin to comprehend. If you feel any guilt associated with how the events unfolded, that may magnify your feelings. All of this may occur emotionally even though logically you know you bear no responsibility. It is important to seek professional help to prevent these feelings from derailing your own ability to function effectively.
Wishing you good health,