National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
We read about the suicide deaths of two prominent figures last week, including a person with whom many women I know felt some connection. I saw their responses on social media: “What about her daughter?” “Her husband was at home.” “She was so successful.”
The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain weren't the first celebrity suicide, of course. But with each one comes a reaction of surprise.
Why are we surprised?
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported that more people died from suicide than from motor vehicle crashes. That statistic continues to be true and is increasing. In 2016, there were twice as many suicides as homicides in the United States.
Why do we continue to be surprised?
Suicidal ideation is more common in women, but lethality in men is higher. We can look at incidence in the United States compared to other countries or frequency by age group, race or socioeconomic factors, but that doesn't really deal with the feelings elicited when that individual life is ended.
How would you finish the sentence: Suicide is –? Selfish? Illegal? A sin?
This is the word I'd choose: Suicide is preventable. And help is available.
If you suspect a friend, family member or colleague is considering hurting themselves, don't hesitate from asking for fear of “putting the idea in their head.” Go ahead and ask! The person who contemplates suicide might answer “no” to the question “Do you want to die?” but “yes” to the question “Do you feel as if there is no reason to live?”
Listen for thoughts of hopelessness, problems with no solutions or pain (emotional or physical) that has no relief. Many people who die by suicide have no known mental health condition. The problems most frequently associated with suicide are life stresses, financial issues or recent crises, such as a job loss or life-altering medical diagnosis.
Look for the warning signs, including anger, agitation, mood swings, sleeplessness, increased drug and alcohol use, and withdrawing from family and friends.
Withdrawing from family and friends was the sign I missed seeing.
In 2006, my little brother (6-foot-2, 250 pounds, but always my little brother) chose suicide as the way to stop his pain. In an attempt to try to figure out “why,” I called every phone number on his cellphone. Almost everyone was surprised to hear he had died by suicide (not committed suicide) because he had never confided to anyone that he struggled with depression. However, almost everyone said it had been weeks since they had talked with him.
But we did get through it.
It isn't always easy to state the fact that my brother died by suicide. I say it not to make others uncomfortable or to seek consolation but to treat it as one would any cause of death. His daughter is now a grown woman who still looks back at the scrapbooks we made for her with his pictures and other memories to be certain she knows the stories of happier times and how much he loved her. Telling his story and listening to others helped process some of the grief and speculation on the answers to the question of “Why did he do it”?
We continue to be surprised when someone chooses suicide because the stigma continues. The only way to lessen this stigma is to talk about it. I am not the only one with a family member who has died by suicide. When we talk openly about depression and hopelessness and suicide, we find that others will share their stories. Keep the conversations going. Talk.
Suicide is preventable and help is available.
Patti Hays is a nurse and co-founder of AVOW, Advancing Voices of Women.