Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why We Should Talk About Suicide as an Illness (even if you don't totally buy it.)

What got me really thinking about this was a FB comment I read while reading about Anthony Bourdain's suicide.  The comment went like this, "It was a terribly selfish act and I don't feel sorry for him, but I do for his poor kid. How can someone be so selfish?" This was followed by a long string of comments debating whether the act of suicide is a selfish choice or a mental illness and therefore not really a choice. Then of course there was Val Kilmer's rant on the matter.

After reading through these comments, which wasn't the first time I've been privy to this debate, I came to the conclusion that my opinion or yours on the selfishness of the person committing suicide or whether or not it is selfish doesn't matter.

It. Doesn't. Matter.

It doesn't matter whether or not you or I think it is selfish. Our opinion on the selfishness of the act itself doesn't do a damned thing to prevent another needless death. It doesn't comfort the family and friends left behind. It doesn't in any way, shape or form help. Anyone.

What it does do is allow us to rationalize why this disease doesn't or won't effect us, and gives us a false sense of security and control. It allows us to go on believing (or hoping) this will ever effect us.

Even if you truly believe this to be true, you should keep it to yourself because should the unthinkable occur and a loved one or someone you know is entertaining thoughts of suicide your stated beliefs or values may keep those you love most dearly from coming to you (or anyone) for help.

I know it doesn't seem like our children listen to us or hold much stock in our opinions, but they do believe it or not. They are listening to what we say and what we do all the time.  Don't underestimate a young child with big ears and insatiable curiosity listening to you discuss this with another adult. They hear and more importantly they remember your words, and the judgment you inject into those words, and that stays with them all the way to their vulnerable tween and teen years.

So when you say, "It's an act of selfishness." With this simple statement you are implying weakness of character in an individual, and your opinion is what your child or loved one hears, feels and holds in their heart. 

So, let's say you are right. It is a selfish act committed by a selfish individual. What if your teen with their underdeveloped brain enabling them to make stupid and rash decisions coupled with their large capacity for melodramatics starts thinking about suicide?

You are going to be the last person they come to for help. Even if they pretend they don't care what you think, we are always hustling for Mom and Dad's approval, so they would rather die (quite literally) than disappoint you or be criticized or judged or labeled as one of "those people".

I don't know about you, but I would rather forgo being right and stand a chance of saving my kid.

However, our teens aren't the only ones at risk. Middle age men are one of the most common victims of this disease. Besides the string of celebrities that make the news (Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams) "regular" people also are victims of suicide.  Both my husband and I have had a middle aged colleague commit suicide, and I have had a family member commit suicide. We both worked in the corporate world, not with "temperamental artists" (for those who think this only strikes the creative types).

What are the odds of your child or a loved one ever thinking about suicide? Very likely. And, you will be the last one to know if you don't pull your head out of the sand.

Suicide is now ranked #10 for cause of death. That is one death every 12 minutes.

- It is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10-34.
- It is the 4th leading cause of death for people ages 35-54
- It is the 8th leading cause of death for people ages 55-64.

The number of suicide rates have increased in every state over the past 2 decades. Some states have seen rates rise over 30% in that time.

Accidents are # 4 and no doubt some of these "accidents" are suicides as well.

Warning Signs

Even if you think you really know your loved one and know they aren't depressed or suffering from a mental illness, so none of this applies to you or anyone you know, you might want to check this out.

54% of those committing suicide didn't have a previously known (i.e. diagnosed) mental illness. They had relationship problems, physical health problems, recent unanticipated crisis, job or financial problems, and/or substance misuse problems. I think we have all know someone who has had one of these very common issues. 

However, suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses, that may not have been recognized or treated.  Research findings have shown that mental disorders and substance abuse has been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide, so it is rarely that single event.  We might blame one thing, but that is overly simplistic. 

Also, people are very good at hiding pain from loved ones, so you might not know a loved one is suffering (silently and alone).  This is why you should start talking about mental illness as an illness and not a character flaw because you never know from what place the listener is coming from (or for that matter who is listening).  

How you talk about it all the time makes it safe to talk about. Being made to feel like a loser never helped anyone. So be a safe person to talk to by keeping your character evaluation to yourself because if it's safe to talk about to you, you might get a heads up. And this is important because.....

These illnesses are treatable.  If we talk about mental illness as an illness not the fault of the person, then we create a safe space for them to treat a problem they have instead of thinking they are the problem. See the difference? 

Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs which include (but aren't limited to):

• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain (fyi depression can cause real physical pain)
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide, but may not be what causes a suicide

So What Can You Do? What are the Risk Factors?

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) one thing you can do is reduce factors that increase risk and increase factors that promote resilience. 

Resilience is a skill that has to be practiced and often, and you should start to help your child develop it as soon as possible. Resilience is the ability to bounce back. It is the development of toughness and grit and protects from victim mentality and getting stuck in defeat. Strong problem solving skills and resilience go hand in hand. Those with it not only survive, they thrive. Those most successful in life have resilience or grit.

Here is a review on an awesome book with tools, How to Ensure Your Child's Success in Life. It has real life practice and examples to help your kids develop this life changing skill, and I couldn't love it more. However, you can also google the term "resilience", watch a TED Talk, read a different book, anything, but start helping you kids learn how to solve their problems in a healthy way (it will work for adults too).

However, I encourage you to not get stuck in research mode and immediately put some of these tools in action even if you are imperfect at it. One of the fastest ways to do this is to stop solving your kids' problems. Right now while they are small practice problems. Before they get to be big adult problems that you may not be around to solve. (Stop intervening in arguments with friends, stop bringing their homework or lunch to school, start asking them how they are going to solve their challenge, e.g. "How are you going to bring up this spelling grade? What are you going to do differently?") Ask them first how they would do it before telling.

This is just one thing you can do to help prevent, but it isn't the only factor. A sense of connectedness (like real connectedness, not social media connectedness) to loved ones and community also go a long way.

Here are more risk factors and protective factors:

What to Do If Someone Exhibits Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol (i.e. liquid courage), drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt. 
    • This is't an anti-gun argument. Most people who commit suicide don't take a long time to carry out their decision once the decision has been made. They don't want to take the time to think about it because they may change their mind, so making it more inconvenient is better. Granted, this does not mean that they won't find another way, but you are buying time to intervene here, and easy access to a gun is not buying you time.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
  • Ask them directly, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" 
  • BeThe1To has 5 action steps you can use to help someone in crisis. What they are, how to use them and Why they work can be found here:
The CDC has a ton of information and resources or if you want to take a deeper dive on the research, take a look on the website. This link is a good starting point.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline in addition to having great information and resources also has a section on how you can help someone who may be contemplating suicide.

Also, did you know many social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube offer ways to report threats of suicide or self-harm? You can find a link to report your concerns directly to those media outlets, here:

So let's suspend judgement or at the very least keep it to yourself. Someone's life may depend on it.

Please know that if you lose someone to this disease, it is not your fault. There is support and help for you too. Resources for Suicide Loss Survivors

No comments:

Post a Comment