My Lessons about Suicide Survival and Support

My last post dealt with the suicide of a dear friend and colleague. It’s been over a month, but my questioning and self-reflection hasn’t ended. The one abiding question for me remains: What can I do to stop this from happening?

Unfortunately, this is a question many of us will need to ask ourselves. Suicide rates have risen in the U.S. and make it the 10th leading cause of death.

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In the news this past week was the story of Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who flew himself and 149 people into a mountain. Since then, it’s been discovered he was depressed and he had researched suicide methods and how to secure cockpit doors.

Also in the news was a study showing no link between suicide rates and deployment in the U.S. military. This study has not taken into account some important subgroups of people exposed to combat that might change their  conclusion.

http://www.stripes.com/news/us/new-study-finds-no-elevated-risk-of-suicide-for-servicemembers-who-deployed-to-iraq-afghanistan-1.337875

Military suicides have doubled since 2005. Active duty suicide has increased. Since 2001, more veterans have died by their own hand than in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. While only 1% of Americans serve in the military, former service members account for 20% of all suicides in the U.S. The Oscar winning documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 put a spotlight on the overwhelming issues being faced by counselors trying to assist those in the military who are considering ending their lives.

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 Unfortunately, those former troops with the highest rates of suicide don’t often qualify for assistance because they were discharged for other problems or misconduct. http://www.stripes.com/news/former-troops-with-highest-suicide-risk-often-don-t-qualify-for-mental-care-1.337972

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24. LGBT and questioning youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, having one of the highest suicide rates.

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This is a topic that needs to be openly discussed. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with suicidal thoughts and/or mental illness seems to keep society from having an open dialogue about it.

Do you feel uncomfortable talking to someone frankly about their self-harm intentions? Think of it this way: What if you knew someone was going to commit a murder and they had a plan to carry it out? Hopefully, you’d contact the appropriate authority. You shouldn’t feel any different about getting involved if it’s a person considering ending their life. It’s an act of violence, but against themselves.

I’ve met suicide survivors online and have learned more about what to say or do when someone close to you is considering ending their lives. I keep replaying the last conversation I had with my friend. I’ve now learned I should have asked the following questions: “Are you thinking about killing yourself now? Do you have a plan for doing it? What’s going to make you stay?”

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Suicide survivor, and Live Through This founder, Dese’Rae L. Stage was kind enough to share some of the things she has learned photographing and speaking with other suicide attempt survivors.  Ms. Stage speaks about suicide and raises awareness, including my own. I highly recommend reading the stories of survivors at her website to get a better perspective of the varied motivations of people who feel like ending their lives. http://livethroughthis.org/

Per Ms. Stage, there are things you should not say. These include: Suicide is selfish and You have so much to live for! She says to tell the person that you love them and support them. If they’re in imminent danger, have them engage with you so you can get them help. Stay involved in their lives to make sure they have a voice in their own treatment and/or recovery by offering to be their advocate. The most important things are to be supportive, receptive and loving. She cautions that none of this will be easy.

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Sam Dylan Finch is a contributing writer for Everyday Feminism, the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up, his blog, and a suicide survivor. He recently wrote an article titled 7 Ways to Actively Support Attempt Survivors. He reminds us of several important facts: 1) Not everyone who attempts suicide will die. 2) One-third of people who attempt suicide will try again within one year. 3) People who have attempted suicide before are at greater risk to attempt again. http://letsqueerthingsup.com/

Most of the survivors whose stories I’ve read wanted and needed loving support, and still do. In the recent book by Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, he discusses people who have posted to social media then been the recipients of world-wide sturm and drang by people judging and commenting on their actions. Imagine taking that same form of judgment and applying it to suicide survivors, who already feel vulnerable. They get labeled as selfish, unstable, pathetic and other equally judgmental terms rather than receiving understanding and support. It’s not okay to shame and/or label people who are already struggling with mental health issues. Would you approach a cancer  survivor or any other near-fatal disease survivor and say “Wow, I can’t believe you survived. We’re not going to hire/support/care about you because that was selfish.” (Although any cancer survivors are told about how cancer comes back and they’re going to die, but that’s another story.)

I’m not an expert. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve tried to educate myself since my friend’s death. Now that I know the stats, I’ve come to realize how prevalent this is.  Because of this, I wasn’t shocked when, just yesterday, someone told me about her suicide attempts.

I’ve learned these lessons:

  • When someone wants to talk about suicide,  listen and try to help.
  • Don’t  ask for details or to intrude in their story, but fully hear the survivor’s narrative.
  • Let them know you care and will be there to help get them treatment and any further support they might need.
  • Don’t use the phrase “I’m going to kill myself”  in a joking way about trivial matters . It isn’t funny.
  • Don’t judge, use labels or shame suicide survivors. 

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Here are some great organizations who help attempt survivors and some prevention hotlines:

Military Veterans Support: http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ Support) : http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Grief Speaks (A discussion of grief, including suicide survivor support)  http://www.griefspeaks.com/

International Suicide Hotlines: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Live Through This (Stories of Suicide Survivors) : http://livethroughthis.org/

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Remember, if you’re going through this, I care. You can always contact me via email at this site (click on the About Me tab) and I will listen.

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1 response to My Lessons about Suicide Survival and Support

  1. Carl says:

    In my opinion and experience, a lot of it can be derailed if people will just talk to each other. A lot of suicides and potential suicides have issues that they have not been able to ease, and a lot of those can be eased just by finding the right person to talk it through with.
    Part of this, in my opinion (and this is somewhat of a guess) is that our current culture has allowed a lot of us to communicate only remotely, and not one-on-one. We talk on the phone, we e-mail, we send texts, but we don’t talk face-to-face. And that allows a lot (too much!) to go unsaid that would be harder to hide if we were actually talking to each other.
    You want to cut back on suicides? Talk to people. More than that *listen* to people. Do it personally, not impersonally, and if that person means something to you, draw them out and get them to unburden, or find someone they can unburden to. I know that if the right people had spoken to me at the right time (a fairly broad window of opportunity) I would not have made my attempt, and having the right conversations since then has made all of the difference in the world.
    Humans are gregarious creatures – we are not individuals – we are part of a society. Treat people as a part of your group, and they will have an easier time being part of themselves.
    Just my 2 cents worth, of course.

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