Updated: Nov 23, 2022
"Yeah, yeah, I'll take care of it," you say when you hear a clank in your vehicle. You ignore it, and one day you're stranded on a country road, and your cellphone, which you didn't charge, doesn't work.
I think that's how a lot of us deal with suicide. Our families are healthy. We're healthy. Life is going great.
Someone dies by suicide.
"Oh, that was just a troubled celebrity. She had so many drug problems," you say, brushing it off.
We can't let suicide win
Suicide has come too close to my life to brush it off. Also, since I believe every life has value, I want every person to know he or she is important and needs to be a part of our world until natural death. It's a challenge because sometimes life really sucks.
Suicide breaks my heart. It doesn't matter who the person is - celebrity or someone in our community - I get this heavy feeling inside and I cry. Then I think of the survivors and their pain. This is why I talk about this topic so often. It just feels personal to me.
This month on the Talking to Myself podcast, suicide prevention is the topic (it's also #nationalsuicideprevention month). I asked our guest, Patty Stritesky, who is a public health specialist, why suicide might be on the rise in certain areas. She said there is no one answer, but stigma plays into it.
Stigma. Who wants to admit they have some kind of mental health condition? Who wants to tell the funeral attendees that their loved one died by suicide? Instead, it's all hushed up and the obituary reads, "the person died suddenly."
Some of that has to do with what experts call "suicide contagion." This is when one suicide seems to ignite a rash of similar suicides in a short amount of time (1). Experts don't want some dramatic method of death to become a trend for other people.
The other aspect is that taboo has stitched itself into suicide. Historically, religions and cultures had forbidden suicide. Some churches did not allow a burial if the person died by suicide. Though society and religions are more accepting, suicide is still a taboo topic (2). No one wants to talk about it.
Stritesky said that talking about suicide, however, is not going to put the idea of suicide into someone's mind. Instead, it will let people know there is help and support available. So let's talk about this issue so it doesn't leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The first thing to learn is not to say someone committed suicide.
"Commit implies that suicide is a crime," said Stritesky. "That further reinforces the stigma. We want to use neutral language, like "died by suicide."
Don't use terms like successful or unsuccessful suicide, "that just frames a tragic outcome as an achievement."
"We want to look to use alternate phrases like 'died by suicide,' or 'survived a suicide attempt.'
"Using first person language when describing somebody with suicidal thoughts shows respect of the individual and it reinforces that their condition does not define them. Instead of, 'He is suicidal,' try, 'He is facing suicide or thinking of suicide.'"
You don't need a college education to learn about the signs of suicide and how to help others. Many cities and towns offer classes. There are plenty of online resources.
Stritesky is part of an effort to get Hope Squad into all the schools in the Walworth, Wisconsin counties. On the website is says it's a "peer-to-peer suicide prevention program,"
Walworth county also offers QPR classes .
"QPR is a Suicidal Thinking, Behavior, Attempts prevention training for participants to be able to recognize the warning signs of Suicidal Thinking, Behavior, Attempts and question, persuade, and refer people at risk for Suicidal Thinking, Behavior, Attempts for help." (https://www.samhsa.gov/resource/)
I took a Mental Health First Aid class. It didn't make me an expert but it made me more aware.
Whether you decide to take a course or become more involved, just do it. Then keep the resources handy. The one resource you should have memorized is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 988. I also keep our human services phone number handy.
A few summers past, a friend of my daughters was over at our house. She was talking about suicide and that her life didn't matter. I called our county hotline where an expert answered. The therapist spoke to the young woman. It was awkward, but I told the girl I had a zero-tolerance for anyone talking about taking their own life. I will always call for help.
It's also sort of embarrassing to bring up the topic of mental health and suicide. Sometimes there's a bit of a push-back by friends or family. Some are in denial. I've had some people say I'm over-sensitive to this topic. That's okay. I don't expect people to roll over and do or accept everything I say. But I will still say it. I can't control the outcome, I can only control what I say or do.
Any time anyone says anything about ending his or her life or things like, "The world would be better without me," don't ignore it. Don't second guess it. Don't think they're manipulating you. They might be. That's okay, let an expert figure that out. Call 988. Be bold.
On the flip side of this is that Stritesky said mental health resources are limited. We might have to step up and join groups or start groups. Of course, work with your county or with a national mental health organization, like NAMI. There are other ways, too, political, social, cultural. Find an avenue that fits your talents and interests. You don't have to commit to a full-time job, but try to do something if possible.
Self care must also be part of your life. I talk about it in Mental Health and Us, but remember, you can't help others if you are not at the best mental or physical health you can be. It doesn't mean you have to be running marathons or be at a gym all day long. It means taking reasonable care of your body and mind so you can be available to others.
Thank you for reading. Get the word out. Please share and do what you can to rid us of this scourge.
988 - Suicide Crisis Hotline
2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/suicidecontagion/> [Accessed 1 September 2022].
Pitman, A., Stevenson, F., Osborn, D. and King, M., 2022. The stigma associated with bereavement by suicide and other sudden deaths: A qualitative interview study.