For those of you unaware, today is National Suicide Prevention Day. According to the American Association of Suicidology, there are close to 40,000 suicide attempts in the United States each year, with approximately 1.6% death rate.  The National Institute of Mental Health has statistics even more alarming: young, white males have the highest rates of suicide attempts and deaths, with nearly five times as many males as females ages 15 to 19 dying by suicide, usually via firearms. The NIMH also states that just under six times as many males as females ages 20 to 24 died by suicide.  Suicide is not just a problem for the young: for every 100,000 people ages 65 and older, 14.3 died by suicide in 2007. This figure is higher than the national average of 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people in the general population. 
So those statistics are just a taste of the problem. Now, let's talk about real solutions...not slogans, not tag lines...possible answers to reverse a 100% reversible problem.
Ribbons are Reminders, Not Solutions in Themselves


The Yellow Ribbon Campaign has good intentions: to raise awareness, to remind those in crisis there are people here to help.  We should keep the campaigns, but we must poke ourselves with hot cattle prods that tying a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree doesn't do diddly by itself.  Too many of us - myself included - have placed our ribbons visible for all eyes and kinda left the cause hanging right where we left it.   So now I eschew the ribbon because, honestly, it's too easy to think it does anything real.


America Loves Youth, But We Must Embrace the Aging

It's no wonder old people are offing themselves at records rates in this country: we're a youth-obsessed culture with little patience for the trials of the aging and infirmed.  Let's be brutally honest about another point: they can be a real pain in the ass.  I'm seeing it with my own parents - aging baby boomers raised to next trust anyone over 30 are now dealing with the inevitable baggage of senior citizenry.  As Bette Davis once said, "growing old is not for wimps." 


The baby boomers have changed the scope and breadth of how we as a society view so many aspects of American culture: war, politics, power, race, gender, and class.  I'm hoping they can, once again, change the way we as a society regard and care for our elderly, to be more inclusive, patient, and multigenerational.  It would be their most enduring legacy.


The Kids Most At-Risk for Suicide are Not Always the Most Sympathetic
I will totally date myself with this next example, but it's worth it: most people at high-risk for suicide are not as lovable as the actors in ABC After School Specials.  We've all seen the mini-series or LifeTime movie, portraying the adorable-yet-kinda-nerdy-new-kid who is alone, afraid, teased, bullied - with a crap-load of weaponry that doesn't alarm his parents.  And just as he's ready to shoot himself directly above his mom's new rug, the beautiful, shy bookworm girl follows her instincts, rallies the clueless adults, and saves him right before he pulls the trigger.


If only.


The truth is, many of the people who are high risk for either suicide or homicide are not always the easiest people around.  Some are withdrawn to the point of mutism, others are highly combative, instigating conflicts in order to receive some attention, even if it's negative.  In short, they are not always the sympathetic hero or heroine of their own stories, and in the cult of cool permeating most American environs, that's an extra hurdle to cross.


So I urge you to talk to your kids about universal kindness, the importance of reaching out, even to those who sometimes make it difficult to do so.  Ask the clumsy, shy girl to sit with you at lunch.  Include the obnoxious weird guy in your group project.  It does not mean your child has to ignore their poor social skills, but instead encourage them to be honest and gentle. For example, "Hey Keith, we'd like to give you a chance and include you more, but when you roll your eyes and always give a sarcastic response, it makes me feel like dirt. Perhaps you can ease up on that?" Encourage your children to include such acts of humanity into their daily lives, not just to prevent suicide or as an act of social charity, but instead as part of what it means to be part of a whole community.
Demand Real Mental Health Care in This Country


Comprehensive mental health care in this country is a joke.  I had hoped after the Sandy Hook tragedy that we would wake up and demand more preventative, comprehensive behavioral health care, but I was wrong.  Part of the reason, I believe, is that mental health still carries a stigma.  We are afraid to stand up and say that we're vulnerable, we struggle, we can't do it alone.  We believe we can free-will-away our anxiety, depression, manic states, and compulsions with more exercise, vitamins, and the latest self-help book.  We have attached the heavy weight of personal moral failing to a bevy of neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain.  It's like saying that the person with Type I Diabetes just needs more sunlight and a better attitude to combat their insulin levels.  If you think it's different because of the location of the chemicals and circuitry, you are wrong.  


I was one of the deniers, the free-will-my-way-to-happiness for many years. Too many years.  My cognitive-behavioral tricks did me well for a while. Until they didn't. And then, I crashed - I went down a rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness, one of which I hope you may never understand.  Talk therapy helped me find the light at the end; the right medication got me to feel the warmth of life once again.


I tell my story often. I will share it with anyone, at anytime it organically arises, because I want to change the perception of mental health in this country, one person at a time.  I can't begin to tell you how many times I have shared my story, only to hear the response, "wow, I'd never suspect someone as together as you would have gone through something like that."  


My response is always the same. It is because of all I have gone through that I am as 'together' as I am today.  And if I'm ever in trouble again, I won't wait so long to ask for help.  It is because I ask for help, that I admit my foibles, and often laugh at them, that I am strong and 'together'.  Anything but living our full truth denies ourselves and the Universe the chance to fully actualize.


Demand from your government comprehensive behavioral health services which actually meet the needs of a citizenry in crisis. 
 


Comments

09/10/2013 4:38pm

YES YES YES to your last paragraph.

Sadly this is a subject I know fairly well, and though nothing terrible has happened yet, it's a thing which has me on tenterhooks. Thank you for your incredibly sensible and sensitive approach to it.

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