New information was released about the steady increase in suicides across our country, and I know we’re all concerned. There are many great suicide awareness campaigns and prevention methods deployed in Colorado. And yet, my observation is we’re not making a consistent dent in these numbers. In fact, suicide is almost becoming a “thing” and being normalized.
Suicide is not normal. Depression is, and having periods when you experience poor mental health is normal. But suicide is not normal. It’s a permanent solution to temporary problems, and it seems the contagion effect is more powerful than ever. A recent study I read noted the suicide rate statistically increases following celebrity suicides, and we recently had two celebrities complete suicide.
I ask myself why we’re experiencing this? I well know the root cause of suicide is as complicated as we are human, and we’re unable to really define a specific singular root cause. We also know treatment works and mental health therapies are proven and effective. So why is this happening? The answer I keep coming back to is that suicide and feeling suicidal are full of stigma and shame.
We have contagion effects for people who complete suicide, and we read about their stories or hear from our friends or family about their lives leading up to the completion. What we don’t hear enough about are the stories of people who have thought of suicide — seriously experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings — yet somehow some way found different paths. I wish as a society we would honor these people as heroes. There is much heroism in fighting one’s demons and coming out on the other side.
Studies indicate 50 percent to 80 percent of Americans have considered suicide in their lifetimes. Yet, very few of us ever speak about that time and how we found a different path. My wish is that we make that heroism a contagion factor, so that the courage to live through a dark time is celebrated as opposed to only celebrating the live after a completed suicide. We simply don’t speak of our dark times and the courage it takes to live through them. I wish that were more of a “thing” and more normalized.
When I speak with people who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings who found different paths, the singular theme I hear is there was a caring person who intervened. One person told me a friend suggested they go on a hike first. And then if she still wanted to complete suicide, she could do so. After the hike, the friend suggested they grab a bite to eat, then to go to a movie — all the while postponing a decision.
The woman said her friend made her realize she had other options in life, and this gave her hope. Another person retold a conversations with a woman who lost her son to suicide many years ago. Hearing the pain that was still present allowed him to think of how his parents would feel and enabled him to make a different choice.
We live in a time when suicide is more and more common. I urge us all to fight against that trend. Help is available and treatment works. I urge us all to take the stigma and shame out of suicide and be a caring friend to others who might be in pain. Be a contagion for life.