Suicide… stop simplifying a complex issue

Updated September 19, 2022

Did you know September 1st starts Suicide Prevention Month? Did you know September 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention Week? Did you know September 10th is National Suicide Prevention Day? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t. Suicide is not a topic we rush to discuss. In our effort to avoid the topic, we often minimize it or try to put suicide in a small box… and suicide is anything but a small box.

This is the one time each year to be completely open about a topic that is complicated and hard. It is a time to give people permission to really dive into learning about the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. It is time to say, we all have to do better and be open if we are going to ever help those most in need. It is time to say suicide is the second leading cause of death for our teens and we as the adults need to do a better job bringing up the topic (How much do you talk to your kids about protecting themselves from others? How much do you talk to them about suicide? They are more likely to die by suicide than homicide).

Many times during this month, people are eager to share 988. While this number is critical and have saved lives, to merely focus on this number and telling those in need to reach out ignores the responsibility of all of us in the fight against suicide. FYI you can call/text this number if you are concerned about someone else!

In the same way agencies, practices, schools do campaigns during September that encourage those who are sad to contact someone. Once again, this information is not wrong, but it misses the bigger picture of what is suicide prevention. It almost excuses the responsibility of the greater society.

When people are in the depths of despair… when they have concluded this world would be better off without them… when they are in such emotional pain they can’t think straight… to say suicide prevention, their death, is just up to them to get help is way too simplistic and avoids the complexity (and let’s be honest research) around suicide and prevention.

It would be like telling someone having a heart attack that their life is up to them getting themselves help with no one else understanding what is happening. The idea is absurd and we don’t handle it that way. Do you know why we don’t? Because the next time someone was having a heart attack, others (who have never had experience with a heart attack) would down play it and tell the person they are fine… they are just being dramatic. We don’t do this because we know such language could mean life and death… we don’t because we don’t put the responsibility only on the one struggling… we all take it on… we have all been educated.

Did you know why someone takes their life is incredibly complicated? I know you might be surprised because if you listen to the media or read Facebook (not the best source of accurate information), you hear all the time how one thing has caused suicide. It is normally from people not looking at data and the actually suicide rates… it is never from someone who has spent their life/career understanding and researching this topic.

We simplify it, because if we do so, we feel like we can control it. We simplify it because to do anything else causes us to be vulnerable. It forces us to learn, talk about, explore a topic that most of us have been raised to believe is off limits. If we admit it or not, we perpetuate the stigma from our shallowness in talking about a topic that is anything but shallow.

In the United States, men are 3.6 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Guess what happens when we reduce suicide prevention to only focusing on sadness? We ignore a huge part of our population that has been socialized to believe crying, being sad is wrong. “Man-up” has conditioned many boys/men to not feel like they can be sad. For many of them depression, anxiety manifests as anger, irritability, rage… see suicide is complicated. Many of our traditional ways of providing help are more tailored towards women and when it is, we are ignoring the biggest group of people who die by suicide.

In the one month, week, and day that is specifically about suicide prevention, please stop trying to make it neat and simple… because it is not. Instead of focusing on posting or retweeting what those in need should be doing and how they should reach out for help, focus on educating yourself, and being a voice to reduce stigma instead of perpetuating it. You can start by learning the risk factors and warning signs and if you are a parent, become comfortable with the words “have you thought about killing yourself.” There are 11 other months when you can go along and pretend suicide isn’t complex, complicated and messy… but for this one month, please lean into the complexity instead of trying to simplify it…. it might just save a life.

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