NOTE: I am not a trained professional; not on this subject. I just happen to know and understand a few things. This post came as a result of a conversation with a friend who suggested I blog about it since I seemed to have an understanding of the topic. An understanding that I personally feel is lacking across the broad spectrum based on my own experiences and encounters.
In my life, I've been touched by many things, both good and bad. I have wonderful friends, people who love and care about me, and the ability to surround myself with what's most important. I'm approaching "mid-life" and can honestly say that I'm a happy person overall. But my happiness was hard won, not simply handed to me without lessons that allowed me to truly appreciate it for the gift it is. Along the way, my life has been touched by sadness and pain. I know I'm not unique in this. It's not a market I claim to have a major share in, let alone cornered. Loved ones have died, boys have broken my heart--many times beyond what I thought was reparable--friends have stabbed me in the back and betrayed me, but none of this is as bad as what others I know have suffered.
I've watched friends and loved ones suffer under the burden of mental illness and depression. We all know someone who has or currently does. I've been fortunate, however, in that none of my friends have taken that fateful, final step and ended their lives simply to ease and escape what feels like insurmountable pain. Other people I know have had to live through this. They struggle to understand how or why it happened. What could they have done to ease the other person's burden, to help them so that their friends and loved ones would never have felt suicide was the next, right, or only option? So many people left behind blame themselves.
What I wonder, though, is how--despite all the avenues available to us to disseminate facts and information, to educate--there are still so many myths and misconceptions out there regarding suicide that are believed as fact. Yes, that's right. Twice now, I've said it. SUICIDE. It's not a dirty little shameful four letter word, and yet we tend to talk about it in hushed tones behind hands that cover our mouths. We shove it into the dark and hope no one ever knows it's touched our lives.
This is 2010, people. Wake the frell up! Asking someone if they're thinking about hurting or killing themselves is NOT going to make the problem worse. It isn't putting the idea in their heads, or even telling the other person that you approve of the decision to do so. Simply mentioning the word "suicide" is not enough to trigger some magic confluence of events and make it happen. What it IS going to do is show that person that someone, anyone, cares. Someone wants to know what's going on with them, inside their heads and hearts, that someone wants to help. Often, people contemplating suicide FEEL alone and abandoned. It isn't true or rational, but to them it's fact. ASK! Tell them you're concerned about them. Don't be afraid of "making it worse" by talking about it. These people are our friends, our family and loved ones. Show them that they matter to us.
So many people, so un- or mis-informed and confused. Every year, my job requires me to attend suicide prevention training, and I'm amazed at the looks I get when I speak up during the audience participation parts. People who don't realize the reason why the stats for men and women vary the way they do. The same ones who crack jokes and make rude comments demonstrating their callous disregard and ignorance. Yes, men complete suicide 3-4 times more often than women. I'll wait and let you read that again. Got it? Okay. Now take that number and compare it to the fact that women attempt suicide 3-4 times more often than men. Again, I'll wait. Are you with me?
Did you catch the difference? Complete versus attempt. What disgusts me most is hearing that the reason for this is because women are fickle and lack follow through, or that they simply "didn't mean it" and that it was just a "cry for attention." UGH!!! While suicidal gestures often are a cry for help or attention seeking, that doesn't make them any less serious. Nor does it mean that women are not serious when they attempt suicide. Anyone who believes that, do me a favor: go win a Darwin Award. Preferably by way that removes your ignorance from the planet as well as the gene pool.
The truth of this difference is not even close. Men more often choose faster, more violent routes. They opt for a gunshot to the head. Women more often choose methods with those who will find them in mind. Wanting to spare them the horror and mess, they opt for methods such as pills or poisons. That's not to say that women don't choose messier or violent options. Only that more often they don't. It's less gruesome, and easier for friends and family to clean up. So who does this allow for such a drastic difference between complete and attempt? Simple: slower, cleaner methods allow more time for someone to interrupt, to find the person and get them help. Both immediate to save their lives, and long term to help deal with the issues that led them to make this choice in the first place.
We live in a society with all these means to reach out and touch others. Of sharing our lives and thoughts, so why is it so hard to get it out there that suicide isn't something we should hide away in shame? HELP PEOPLE!!! Don't make them too afraid of being judged to come forward and ask help. We need to stop treating this like it doesn't exist, or that people who go through this are worthy of derision and scorn. It's time to acknowledge that it's a very real issue that deserves our attention and care. It's time to start educating people, and for us to take that education to heart. We place such a premium on education for everything else; why not this? Imagine what we could accomplish. Imagine the lives we could save.
((In line with that final thought, here are some helpful links if you'd like more information, and I encourage anyone who has additional resources to add them!))