Last night I was speaking with my sister Allyson and she told me a very sad thing: her friend Tara had committed suicide by hanging herself after years of mental health problems. In response to this news, Allyson had reposted my blog posting entitled Progress Or Suffer The Consequences and the sad tale of her friend’s demise took on another dimension of urgency. I highly suggest that you all read the posting.
I am quite disturbed by the idea that for many people who are considering suicide there is simply no one to care about that person’s hopelessness. I am saddened by the thought that people believe themselves removed from the problem and simply pay no attention to how desperately people need help to make it past suicidal ideation or worse, making plans to commit the act. Most of all I am outraged that people seem to wait for the disaster to affect their lives before they understand the depth of the problem and do something but by then, it’s often too late.
Think about these facts: the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta says that the daily number of suicides (as of 2010) is 105 per day. One hundred and five lives. 38,364 people per year. And since 2010, the numbers have increased, not decreased.
I am ashamed by the sheer immensity of this number. I believe every one of us must take responsibility for this problem. As I was one of those that considered suicide as an answer to living with mental anguish, and having come through the fire, I feel I am responsible to others to help prevent them from taking their lives.
It is estimated that between 25% to 50% of those with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once. It was only by chance that I was diagnosed and treated before I could take my own life. If I can dissuade just one single person from becoming part of that statistic then I have helped. But it’s not enough. Until we have no more deaths from suicide it will never be enough.
When someone dies there is always pain and incalculable loss.
For people who are depressed, mentally ill, alone, frightened and living without the benefit of someone who loves and cares about them, suicide is a particularly horrible loss because perhaps there was a good chance it could have been prevented. Each and every death regardless of reason is a tremendous loss to humanity but a needless and preventable death is especially sad.
Consider someone who is ill, confused, alone, feeling unbelievably sad and hopeless. Someone who is mentally ill. Perhaps they are in great mental confusion and feeling utterly alone even in a crowd of people who love them. Perhaps they feel completely cut off, worthless and filled with grief. Perhaps they feel as if nothing will ever change for the better.
It takes an effort from everyone involved to prevent a suicide. It takes family members and friends to learn the warning signs, to extend their understanding and love and to make sure that the mentally ill loved one understands that they want to help. Yet even this may not be enough. Without having caring people around them the success of preventing their suicide might be virtually impossible to achieve.
Are you among those loved ones that can help? What have you learned in order to assist a person that has expressed the wish to commit harm to themselves? Does it even matter if you have known them for only a short time? If they are perfect strangers? What about the people that you love dearly? Can you make a difference?
You can make a very big difference just by asking a simple question: Are you all right? And then, do another very simple but critical thing: listen to them. Listen to what they say. Help them.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You are so very beautiful and so is life. You have so much to live for. Someone will miss you. Stay.”
– Paige Carter
If a person you know is suicidal and you see the warning signs, there are steps to take. First, everyone, whether or not they know someone at risk, should read the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention published by the U.S. Surgeon General. This is important information and a background education tool so that you can better understand the problem. There is also a list of other Suicide Prevention resources to view.
Tara’s death is a sad reminder of how little we consider the effects of mental health problems in the present when they matter most. Perhaps we could have done something more to help but sadly there are times when the outcome is bad no matter what we did or did not do.
But that is no excuse. Maybe people believe that suicide will never affect them. Maybe in their minds, suicide only happens to someone else, never to them. But this is ignorance rearing its ugly head. Suicide affects everyone and if you believe that it does not, reconsider. It will affect you in an important way and when it does suddenly happen, it’s too late to change the fact, too late for you to make a difference for that person.
We have to strive for better. It is a societal, cultural and ethical mandate.
We need to give flowers to the people in our lives while they live to appreciate them, not place them on a loved one’s casket in a funeral home. We need to express our love and admiration for the important people in our lives while they can appreciate that love and admiration rather than expressing guilt when it’s too late for them to hear you.
Life is for the living, not the dead. The living need our help. The dead do not.
This is a sign on a pillar of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I have walked past this sign many times and each and every time I stared at it without thinking too much about it until the day I walked over the bridge and actually considered jumping as something I could do. I’m glad I never did. But I saw the possibility. I saw how it might be a comfort to me and to everyone that knew me if I could only get up the nerve to place my hands on the rail and hoist myself over.
I could not do it. Oh, I was desperate enough to consider it. But what damage would I have done had I jumped? If only I had someone who understood what I was going through to talk to, to try to make sense of why I was feeling that way. But it was not years later that I finally found the path toward psychological health and it took people who loved me to encourage me and point me in the right direction to get the help I so desperately needed.
How many other people have walked past this sign and considered suicide? So many more than I want to imagine, so many more than ever should have.
If there is one thing in the world I have learned it is that all things are temporary. You just have to wait out the bad and eventually will come the good. And that’s not syrupy nonsense, it’s the truth. You might need only sit and wait it out with someone who is suicidal. They might need only a concerned hand extended to them in love for that moment, a moment that could mean the difference between a wonderful life or a sad and empty death.
Please, be one of the good people who eventually come along and help. Pease, do the right thing, the good thing, the most humane thing and encourage help to those who need it. Offer to take them to the clinic. Offer your time and concern but not your horror or disgust because they have enough of that going on for themselves. Make them clearly understand that you are there at their side and won’t leave them to jump off that bridge. Do the right thing.
Do it in memory of Tara, who lies in a funeral home with her poor parents grieving by her side.
Do it for me, for yourself, for everyone. Make a difference.