This week, I had the honor of speaking with experts from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the organization behind November 21's National Survivors of Suicide Day. Read on for the interview and look for one more interview from a psychologist tomorrow on how you can help a loved one.
Why is suicide such a rising concern in this country?
I am not sure that it is a rising concern. The rates of suicide have increased slightly over the last couple years among some age groups, while decreasing in others. Overall, the rate it up, but the overall concern of the country could be much greater. Suicide is a national health problem and leading cause of death, but receives very little in government funding compared to other health issues. Suicide prevention receives very little corporate sponsorship compared to other causes. Much more needs to be done to prevent suicide and raise awareness about this issue
- Wylie Tene, AFSP public relations manager.
In your view, why is the subject of suicide such a taboo topic?
Suicide was historically condemned as a sin by most major religions. Even in current times, it's a topic that most people don't talk about very openly. In the general population, there is a great deal of ignorance, misunderstanding and even fear around the subject. In the aftermath of a suicide, family and friends may blame themselves. All of this has given rise to a topic that most people don't talk about very openly. A taboo.
- Joanne Harpel, Director of Survivor Initiatives for AFSP
What can people do to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds suicide?
Get the facts and learn about suicide - its causes, warning signs, risk factors, etc. Knowledge and awareness are key to reducing stigma.
Experts always speak of the person who committed suicide, but those left behind have a tough road to travel. What are some of the typical emotions and experiences those left behind face?
Survivors often experience a wide range of grief reactions, including some or all of the following:
*Shock is a common immediate reaction.
*Survivors may feel numb or disoriented, and may have trouble concentrating.
*Some survivors have symptoms of depression, including disturned sleep, loss of appetite, intense sadness and lack of energy.
*Some feel anger toward the deceased, another family member, a therapist or themselves.
*Some feel relief, particularly if the suicide followed a long and difficult mental illness
*Some may feel guilt, as if they were somehow responsible for the suicide
These feelings usually diminish over time as survivors develop their ability to cope and begin to heal.
What advice do you have those who are suicidal?
See your doctor! Suicidal thoughts are common; however, if suicidal thoughts are persistent and increasing, it could be a sign of a medical illness such as depression or bipolar disorder. Mental illnesses are treatable and if caught and treated early, many patients can have remission and live productive and healthy lives.
What advice do you have for those left behind after a loved one takes his/her life?
Many survivors struggle to understand the reasons for the suicide, asking themselves over and over again, "why?" Many replay their loved one's last days, searching for clues, particularly if they didn't see any signs that suicide was imminent. It's critical to know that 90 percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death (most often depression or bipolar disorder). As people can die of heart disease or cancer, people can die as a consequence of mental illness. Suicide is almost always complicated, resulted from a combination of painful suffering, desperate hopelessness and underlying psychiatric illness.