We are coming to the end of National Suicide Awareness Month here in the US, and while we should try to raise awareness all year round, I thought it was a good a moment as any to talk about it. Over the past few years we have seen some of our beloved idols, actors and singers die by their own hand after years of struggling with mental illness, illness, and addiction. We say that we need to talk about it, to remove the stigma, but in reality nothing really happens. Suicide is still swept under the carpet, and we always look for something or someone else to blame. Instead we should try to look at the root of the problem and go from there. Instead of blaming something, why are we not opening our ears, listening, and really trying to help?
Here are some statistics:
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are approximately 800,000 deaths by suicide in the world every year, and this does not include the scores and scores of suicide attempts that happen on a daily basis. In the US there are currently 19.5 male deaths by suicide per 100,000 people, and 5.8 female deaths. As a comparison, the average number of deaths caused by cancer every year in the US is 171.2 per 100,000 men and women (all ages combined). Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, but suicide doesn’t fall that far behind, at number 10 on the list of leading causes of death. In addition to this the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) estimates that for every suicide there are 20-25 suicide attempts. Can you imagine if every single one of these attempts were successful? Multiply 800,000 by 25 and that number comes to 20,000,000. So, the average of people who take steps towards ending their lives is much, much higher than we can imagine.
While suicide is mostly prevalent in older generations (loneliness and illness are large factors), teenage suicide cannot be neglected. As you can see in the image below, taken from a complete study on suicide in young people, nearly 20% of 15-18 year olds considered suicide in 2013. One in 5 teens in one in 5 too much. The only way we can help reduce these statistics is by continuing to talk about suicide, to raise awareness on mental illness, bullying, violence, mental and physical abuse, and to reach out. An open dialogue can be a real lifeline.
(Image Taken from explainthatstuff.com – Suicide in Young People)
My Nana once told me that “he did everything that he wanted to accomplish in life and his time had come to move on”. I think I was about 18 when she said that to me, talking about my father who had died 8 or so years earlier, not long before my 10th birthday. I didn’t know he had committed suicide for a while, I naturally thought he had died from a drug overdose, because that’s what often happens to addicts. Even now, 30 years later, I remember my father very well, especially the good times, but I don’t remember any time when he wasn’t an addict, even when he wasn’t using or high. It didn’t take me very long to find out the truth though, and it is something that I have written about several times in recent years. Becoming a parent helped me come to terms with a lot of things in my life, and my father’s death is one of them. However, I will always wonder what he would have been like as a father to two teenage girls, a grandfather to one, two, and now three grandchildren. I always wonder if my luck of escaping dire situations in life is thanks to him: is he watching over me, making sure I don’t completely lose my footing? I see his reflection in my children’s eyes; he is there, part of them too. My children will never know their grandfathers, both taken from us all too soon by suicide, and while I have come to terms with this, I will never stop wondering “what if?”. On a personal note, I will also always be very open about this with my children when they ask. I believe that by not talking about suicide, mental illness, and addiction we widen the stigma, and instead we should be closing the gap.
There has been a lot of talk about the TV adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why. I have noticed two distinct camps, one agreeing that it helps raise awareness, and another stating that it promotes and glorifies teen suicide. And there is a smaller camp stuck in the middle, and I am part of that one. Would I allow my children to watch this? Probably, as long as I am there, or at least as long as we talk about it afterwards. I would probably ask them to read the book first as it is less graphic and less drawn out visually. Do I think that it promotes suicide? Not really, I think it shows that we don’t talk about it enough. We often hear people say “but I had no idea he/she was depressed” (remember Robin Williams’ death?), but then again how often do you see people talking about depression? Is avoiding the subject and hiding it from our children really the best way to drive suicide figures down? If we open up the dialogue are we not providing our children with an open, comfortable space where they can talk about things that may be hurting/bothering them, or causing them to consider death as the only way out?
I don’t know, you tell me what you think. From a personal experience I know that suicide causes lifelong pain, and while I can understand the whys, I will always aim to raise awareness, and help prevent it whenever possible. Whenever we utter the words “how are you today?” let’s make sure we mean it and are willing to really listen to what the other person has to say. You never know, an available ear and some compassion and understanding may be the difference between life and death.
(Of course it isn’t that easy, but let’s have an open conversation about suicide. I invite you to join me on Mamazou’s forums to continue this conversation, and if you don’t feel comfortable using your name you are more than welcome to post anonymously).
Jade Anna Hughes is a writer and photographer who was born in the UK, grew up in France, called NYC home for a decade before relocating to the California sun. She has two young daughters, another child on the way, and spends most of her “spare” time writing, reading and trying to change the world. Her first book, With Spring Comes Hope, is currently available on Amazon and B&N worldwide.