And so our topic today goes to the heart of an epidemic in our culture and our community. One that rips a hole in the fabric of so many lives and always – always – leaves too many questions unanswered.
What is the size and scope of the problem?
According to a New York Times article from April this past year, the US suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high. The American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide reports that Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and the leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 14.
Almost 43,000 Americans die by suicide – that adds up to 121 people taking their lives every single day.
For every completed suicide, 25 attempt suicide.
And they remind us that while this data is the most accurate available, they estimate the actual numbers to be higher. “Stigma surrounding suicide leads to under-reporting, and data collection methods critical to suicide prevention need to be improved.”
Here in the Tri-Cities, we have also seen an unprecedented rise in suicides.
The latest Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey (2014) confirms that depression and thoughts of suicide have reached an all-time high.
26 percent of teens reported being depressed in the past year. That equals about 6,400 youth between the ages of 13 and 18.
17 percent of teens reported that they had thought about attempting suicide and 12 percent had made a plan to carry it out.
7 percent said they tried to kill themselves at least once in the past 12 months.
Our young people are talking about it, they are trying it, and they are completing it.
So are our veterans. Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. It turns out that overall suicide rates are up 56% in 15 years and still rising in almost every demographic you can define, including those who are over 85 years old.
In all, a suicide attempt occurs some place in this country every single minute.
And every 15 minutes, one of those attempts is completed. What does it mean that so many people in our society and in our own neighborhoods are taking their lives?
The easy answer is hopelessness. But when we delve deeper, when we ask the really hard questions, we find there are no easy answers. While suicide is often viewed as a response to a single stressful event, it is far more complicated than that. Suicide results from complex biological, psychological, social, and environmental interactions. Each story, like each individual, is unique.
Suicide cries of the tragic brokenness of life: that while we believe life is essentially good, there are times for some of us when to live is to be in hell, to know a torment that has no hope. As human beings, we can’t ignore, reject, or shy away from those who despair of life. Instead, we have a responsibility to protect and promote life, to be an agent of hope in the midst of suffering, and to act in love toward those who are troubled. That’s why we’re here tonight holding a second Town Hall Meeting on Suicide. To learn what that means and how we can all do it better. And to break through the silence.
Because so often we aren’t even aware of the suffering. People hide their pain and their loss because of stigma and shame. And that stigma is sticky. It attaches itself not only to those who consider suicide, but also to those who are left behind – the survivors of suicide – along with a complex combination of guilt, blame and fear.
Because of stigma, suicide is rarely discussed. And that makes even talking about thoughts of suicide very difficult. The fact that we can’t talk about suicide may well be one of the greatest barriers to preventing its tragic outcome. So let’s be clear. This is not a discussion that involves us and them. We have all been impacted by suicide in one way or another, just as we are all affected by mental illness in one way or another.
Which brings me to the need to clear up a misperception…
We hold town halls because we believe we need to normalize the conversation. When I can tell you my story of mental illness and a choice to live and the tragedy of my best friend’s suicide – then I create a space in which you just might be willing to share your story with me or with someone who hasn’t dared to share their story with anyone yet. And when people open up to us, we want and need to know how to respond.
Which is why we offer QPR Training before our Town Hall Meetings. TCM Counseling and others have been actively working to provide QPR Training throughout the community. QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Respond. It is suicide prevention training. It only takes an hour and there is no cost.
Community Mental Health offers Mental Health First Aid Training. This training takes place in 2 4-hour segments (8 hours altogether). I encourage every single one of us to take advantage of these opportunities to equip ourselves to intervene in the hope that we might help save a life.
Suicide devastates individuals, families, and communities. And those feelings are only compounded by the fact that people don’t talk about suicide. Too often it becomes a family problem, a personal secret, something shrouded in stigma and shame.
Hence the need for us to have this important conversation and to find the courage to confront what we would often rather ignore. The need to listen, to learn, to offer a lifeline and to be willing to take hold of a lifeline when it’s offered to us. Our lives depend on it.