We Should Be Talking About Suicide — Here’s How to Do It Correctly

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By De Elizabeth and Lauren Rearick

As the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, suicide remains an ongoing topic in the mental health community, and around the world. With more than 43 million American adults currently dealing with mental illness, the importance of how we talk about suicide has once again come to light in the wake of three highly publicized deaths, all within the span of a week: those of Sydney Aiello, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; a second, currently unnamed Parkland student; and Jeremy Richman, a 49-year-old father of a Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim.

All three deaths were reported on within the same week, but it’s not possible to know if there was a link between each incident beyond the fact that all three people were impacted by gun violence at some point in their lives. For his part, Richman founded the Avielle Foundation in honor of his daughter, who was among the 20 students and 7 adults killed at Sandy Hook in 2012. The non-profit organization was created to “prevent violence by building compassion through brain research, community engagement, and education.” And Sydney’s mother, Cara Aiello, told CBS Miami that her daughter had struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder following the 2018 attack at MSDHS, noting Sydney remained fearful of encountering another act of gun violence. She added that she wants her daughter’s struggles to help others, and she reminded community members to seek help if they needed it.

Finding that help isn’t always easy, especially for young people with limited resources. “About halfway through my freshman year of college, I realized I was struggling with mental health,” a 20-year-old named Delaney told MTV News. Although her school provided counseling, there was a waitlist. “I was advised to go out into the community to seek out a therapist,” she explained. “I was fortunate enough to be able do do that, but I know that not everyone is.” Most mental health programs prioritize helping those with suicidal ideations if they can, but people should feel empowered to seek help at the first sign of stress, whether minor or dire.

And to point to PTSD, or one specific incident alone, as the sole cause of a suicide can dangerously oversimplify suicide and suicidal ideation, and leave many gun violence survivors feeling hopeless. Surviving a school shooting can certainly be disruptive to someone’s mental health, and such an event can understandably cause lasting trauma. However, ahost of issues contribute to instances of suicide, which is why it is imperative that those dealing with suicidal ideation feel safe enough to ask for help, and that our society at large is better equipped to talk about suicide, and provide support and resources to those experiencing ideations.

“What we know to be true is that if somebody dies by suicide in a specific community … then the other folks in that community are at a much higher risk for also dying by suicide. And that’s why the word contagion comes up in this conversation,” Chris Bright, Director of Public Training for The Trevor Project, told MTV News. “For vulnerable populations … the exposure to inappropriate ways of talking about suicide or inappropriate depictions of suicide puts them at a higher risk for attempting suicide after that exposure.” For that reason, Trevor Project offers a variety of resources for young people who might be struggling with suicidal ideation, including both a phone and text hotline, as well as a chat service.

Melissa McCormick, a licensed mental health counselor in Longwood, Florida, also told MTV News that people should avoid sharing specific details of how someone died. “When someone can envision details of a traumatic event, they can imagine it more thoroughly, and are more likely to struggle with trauma responses,” McCormick said.

The three recent deaths have received a lot of media coverage, but not all reporting has been responsible, with many outlets using troubling language to describe the events. (MTV News is choosing not to link to the stories in question in order to minimize the chances of contagion.)

But the responsibility extends beyond reporters; through social media, we have the ability to share information instantaneously with followers and friends alike. While posting news stories of highly publicized suicides is often done in good faith, such efforts can sometimes have an adverse effect. We don’t know who within our online circles might be struggling, and stories that simply relay details of suicides without any hope or information for prevention can be hugely damaging, especially if dangerous language is used.

Both Bright and McCormick note that we should never use the phrase “committed suicide” when talking about someone’s death; rather, it’s important to say “died by suicide,” as HuffPost points out.

Bright posed the question: “When do you normally hear the phrase ‘committed?’ The answer is, you usually hear it in regards to a crime… You don’t often hear it in ways that have positive connotations. So when you use that word, you’re further stigmatizing something that is already hard to talk about.”

“Died by suicide,” in opposition, is neutral. “It’s just a very factual way to talk about something that isn’t stigmatized,” Bright said. “It doesn’t use words that make people afraid.” McCormick added that making these conscious word choices “shows the importance of shifting our perspective on suicide.”

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t discuss suicide at all; in fact, it’s just the opposite. We must discuss it, both in order to continue to lower stigma, but also to reassure other people that they aren’t alone.

And that’s why it’s more crucial than ever to have the proper tools to discuss suicide safely and productively. Our words matter, and by using the right language, we can create a safer environment for those struggling with suicidal ideation. Responsible conversations can empower people to ask for help; sometimes, it’s just as simple as sharing information about suicide prevention, or telling a friend that you’re there to listen. But it’s also crucial that people feel they have access to seek professional help should they need it, without stigma; in some cases, you might not be equipped to help someone in the way a counselor or a doctor can, and the best way you can be there them is by supporting them while they find the care they need.

“Trauma and loss don’t just go away, you have to learn to live with it through getting support,” David Hogg, a member of March for Our Lives, the student-led organization dedicated to gun reform, wrote on Twitter. “We should be spending all the money politicians want to spend on arming teachers on something that will actually save lives, like mental health care in our schools.”

There are also online resources available for people experiencing suicidal ideation, and those who want to learn more about how to properly discuss suicide. Half of Us,  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Trans Lifeline also offer support services through telephone hotlines (call 1-800-273-TALK), while the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education offer online resources. The National Alliance for Mental Illness helpline can help provide answers to questions about treatment options; though they do not provide therapy or recommend individualized recommendations for therapists in your area, they may be able to help point callers in the right direction. The American Psychological Association also providesresources and databases for those seeking professional help.

“Young people should be able to talk about suicide,” Bright emphasized to MTV News. “They should be able to talk about their feelings and the things that they have going on in their lives, and they want to be able to identify the friends who are going to handle that type of conversation with respect, dignity, and support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, head to halfofus.com for ways to get help.

Why More Men Than Women Die By Suicide

Author Article

Six years ago my brother took his own life. He was 28 years old.

Tragically, suicide is not as rare as one might think. In 2016, the last year global data is available from the World Health Organization (WHO), there were an estimated 793,000 suicide deaths worldwide.Most were men.

In the UK, the male suicide rate is its lowest since 1981 – 15.5 deaths per 100,000. But suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. And a marked gender split remains. For UK women, the rate is a third of men’s: 4.9 suicides per 100,000.

It’s the same in many other countries. Compared to women, men are three times more likely to die by suicide in Australia, 3.5 times more likely in the US and more than four times more likely in Russia and Argentina. WHO’s data show that nearly 40% of countries have more than 15 suicide deaths per 100,000 men; only 1.5% show a rate that high for women.

The trend goes back a long way. “As long as we’ve been recording it, we’ve seen this disparity,” says psychologist Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice-president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a health organisation that supports those affected by suicide.

Suicide is a hugely sensitive, complex issue with a tangled multitude of causes – and the very nature of a death by suicide means we can never fully know the reasons behind it.

Still, as mental health awareness has grown, there is greater public understanding about potential contributing factors. One of the questions that has persisted, though, regards this gender gap. It seems especially large given that women tend to have higher rates of depression diagnoses.

Why are men struggling? (Credit: Getty)

Why are men struggling? (Credit: Getty)

Women also are even more likely than men to attempt suicide. In the US for example, adult women in the US reported a suicide attempt 1.2 times as often as men. But male suicide methods are often more violent, making them more likely to be completed before anyone can intervene. Access to means is a big contributing factor: in the US for example, six-in-10 gun owners are men – and firearms account for more than half of suicides.

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Men may also choose these methods because they’re more intent on completing the act. One study of more than 4,000 hospital patients who had engaged in self-harm found, for example, that the men had higher levels of suicidal intent than the women.

Why are men struggling – and what can be done about it?

Risk factors

One key element is communication. It’s too simplistic to say women are willing to share their problems and men tend to bottle them up. But it is true that, for generations, many societies have encouraged men to be “strong” and not admit they’re struggling.

It often starts in childhood. “We tell boys that ‘boys don’t cry’,” says Colman O’Driscoll, former executive director of operations and development at Lifeline, an Australian charity providing 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. “We condition boys from a very young age to not express emotion, because to express emotion is to be ‘weak’.”

Mara Grunau, executive director at the Centre for Suicide Prevention in Canada, points out it’s how we talk to our children and how we encourage them to communicate about themselves too: “Mothers talk way more to their girl children than their boy children… and they share and identify feelings” more, she says. “We almost expect women to be emotional.”

From a young age, we condition men to think that crying is a sign of weakness

From a young age, we condition men to think that crying is a sign of weakness (Credit: Getty)

But men may be less likely to admit when they feel vulnerable, whether to themselves, friends, or a GP. They also can be more reticent than women to see a doctor. A UK British Medical Journal study found general primary care consultation rates were 32% lower in men than women. (Consultation rates for depression, assessed by whether patients received antidepressant prescriptions, were 8% lower in men than women).

“Men seek help for mental health less often,” Harkavy-Friedman says. “It’s not that men don’t have the same issues as women – but they’re a little less likely to know they have whatever stresses or mental health conditions that are putting them at greater risk for suicide.”

Men seek help for mental issues less often (Credit: Getty)

Men seek help for mental issues less often (Credit: Getty)

If a person is not even cognisant they have a condition causing their distress, then they’re less aware anything could be done to help them. Only a third of people who take their own lives are in mental healthcare treatment at the time, says Harkavy-Friedman.

Dangerously, rather than seeking help through established channels, some men may attempt to “self-medicate”.

“There tends to be more substance use and alcohol use among males, which may just reflect the distress they’re feeling – but we know it compounds the issue of suicide,” says Harkavy-Friedman.

Indeed, men are nearly twice as likely as women to meet criteria for alcohol dependence. But drinking can deepen depression and increase impulsive behaviours and alcoholism is a known risk factor for suicide.

There tends to be more substance and alcohol use among men

There tends to be more substance and alcohol use among men, which can be a dangerous attempt to ‘self-medicate’ (Credit: Getty)

Other risk factors can be related to family or work. When there’s an economic downturn that results in increased unemployment, for example, there tends to be an associated increase in suicide – typically 18-24 months after the downturn. One 2015 study found that for every 1% increase in unemployment there is a 0.79% increase in the suicide rate.

Having to worry more about finances or trying to find a job can exacerbate mental health issues for anyone. But there are elements of social pressure and identity crisis, too. “We’re brought up our entire lives to judge ourselves in comparison with our peers and to be economically successful,” says Simon Gunning, the CEO of Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm), a UK-based award-winning charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. “When there are economic factors we can’t control, it becomes very difficult.”

There can also be a spiralling effect. In the US, for example, health insurance often is linked to employment. If a person is being treated for depression or substance use, they may lose that care when they lose their job.

Another risk factor is a sense of isolation, as physician Thomas Joiner writes in his book Why people die by suicide. This can manifest itself in every walk of life. The outwardly successful professional who has prioritised career advancement to the detriment of all else, including social relationships, may find himself “at the top of the pyramid, alone,” says Grunau.

One potential risk factor is a sense of isolation (Credit: Getty)

One potential risk factor is a sense of isolation (Credit: Getty)

Of course, it is important to remember that while an external factor might precipitate suicidal behaviour in a person who’s already at risk, it’s never the sole cause.

“Millions of people lose their jobs, almost all of us have lost a relationship and we don’t end up dying by suicide,” says Harkavy-Friedman.

Possible solutions

There are no straightforward fixes for an issue this complex. But a number of programmes, policies and nonprofits are making inroads.

In Australia, for example, mental health and suicide prevention groups are trying to shift the cultural paradigm. One initiative that has gained traction is RU OK? day, which encourages people to support those struggling with life by starting a conversation. Another approach is the “shoulder-to-shoulder principle” – encouraging men to talk while otherwise occupied, like watching football or going for a bike ride. Mates in Construction, a training and support programme, raises awareness of high suicide rates in the industry and shows construction workers how they can help be part of the solution.

Overall, there’s an emphasis on “making it okay for men to talk about how they’re feeling – and for that to be acknowledged as a sign of strength”, says O’Driscoll.

In Australia, the programme Mates in Construction is raising awareness

In Australia, the programme Mates in Construction is raising awareness of the industry’s high suicide rates (Credit: Getty)

Technology is presenting new options too. Not everyone might want to unburden themselves to another person, even over a helpline. But artificial intelligence – such as chatbots – might allow a vulnerable person to communicate and get the help they need without fear of judgement.

Another strategy is to focus on the impact a suicide has on loved ones. Calm’s campaign Project 84 – so named to represent the 84 men who die weekly by suicide in the UK – stresses the devastation left behind. This can counteract the sense by some men that “it’s the ‘right’ thing to take themselves out of the equation”, Gunning says. He emphasises: “Staying is always an option.”

Staying is always an option (Credit: Getty)

Staying is always an option (Credit: Getty)

Other solutions have to do with simply making suicides more difficult to complete. After barriers were installed on the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol, England, for example, one study found that deaths from jumping the bridge halved – and there was no evidence that suicides from jumping from other sites in the area increased in response.

Still, more work obviously has to be done.

O’Driscoll compares how there’s often more attention paid to reducing road fatalities than to suicide prevention, despite suicide taking more lives. In Australia, for example, the overall suicide rate in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 – the highest rate in more than a decade –compared to 4.7 per 100,000 for road deaths.

More research is needed too. “Clearly,” says Harkavy-Friedman, “there are differences between women and men in our biology, our hormonal structure and the way our brains develop and function.” But men and women are often studied together, and despite attempts to statistically control for the differences, it is not enough. She believes we need to study men and women separately.

But there are positive signs. Harkavy-Friedman notes a huge change on the professional side, recalling at the beginning of her career it was hard to get a paper accepted on suicide because it was thought that you couldn’t prevent suicide, she says. Now, we know that to be wrong.

She also points to more government involvement than ever before. On World Mental Health Day in 2018, the UK government announced its first suicide prevention minister. “The UK has been ahead of the game, every step along the way,” she says, adding that she believes there has been a decrease in the UK suicide rate because a national strategy has been implemented.

The situation is getting better, but there is more work to be done (Credit: Getty)

The situation is getting better, but there is more work to be done (Credit: Getty)

For Grunau too, the situation is unquestionably getting better. “We are seeing momentum we’ve never seen,” she says. “You can actually talk about suicide and people still flinch, but they’re more willing to have the conversation.”

That has had positive effects, as the decline in UK suicides shows. Still, it’s not enough. Any life lost to suicide – whether male or female – is a life too many.

More American Millennials Are Experiencing Depression and Suicide

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 | THINKSTOCK

More young adults in the U.S. are experiencing mental health issues, and digital media usage might be partly to blame, said a new study.

Between 2005 and 2017, the rate of adolescents reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months jumped 52 percent, according to the study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Abnormal Psychology, run by the American Psychological Association.

The study found a 63 percent increase in young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reporting symptoms of depression between 2009 and 2017. It also showed significant increases in the rates of young adults who reported serious psychological distress and suicidal thoughts or suicide-related outcomes during similar time periods.

Researchers also note there is no similar increase among older adults during corresponding time periods.

Jean Twenge, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said digital media might play a role in the increase among young adults.

“Cultural trends in the last 10 years may have had a larger effect on mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations compared with older generations,” Twenge said in a statement.

Ian Gotlib, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology (SNAP) Laboratory, said genetics can be ruled out as a potential factor because the increase in reports of mental health issues happens too quickly.

“It’s correlational, but what’s increased with depression is the use of social media with kids,” said Gotlib, who was not affiliated with the study. “And I don’t think that should be underestimated.”

A Pew Research survey released last month revealed 70 percent of teens believe anxiety and depression are critical issues among peers, even more than bullying or drug and alcohol use.

Several other studies have found a rise in depression among teens and young adults, leaving many experts to wonder how big a role social media might contribute.

“These results suggest a need for more research to understand how digital communication versus face-to-face social interaction influences mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes and to develop specialized interventions for younger age groups,” Twenge said.

Gotlib said having conversations with your kids is a good starting point, as well as paying attention to their digital media habits. “I would just watch for what looks to be an inability to not be with your phone,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean depression but it has that potential.”

Read more at usatoday.com.

What’s It Like to Be Suicidal? This Is My Experience, and How I Got Through It

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How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.

At times, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts, even on a weekly basis.

Sometimes I’m able to ignore them. I might be driving to meet a friend for brunch and briefly think about driving my car off the road. The thought might catch me off-guard, but it quickly passes through my mind and I go about my day.

But other times, these thoughts stick around. It’s like a huge weight is dropped onto me, and I’m struggling to get out from underneath it. I suddenly get an intense urge and desire to end it all, and the thoughts can start to overwhelm me.

In those moments, I’m convinced I’ll do anything to get out from under that weight, even if it means ending my life. It’s like there’s a glitch in my brain that’s triggered and my mind goes haywire.

Even if that glitch is actually temporary, it can feel like it will last forever
With time, though, I’ve become more aware of these thoughts and found ways to manage when things get tough. It’s taken a lot of practice, but simply being aware of the lies my brain tells me when I’m suicidal helps to combat them.

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what depression tells you, there’s always hope.
Here are four ways my suicidal ideation shows up, and how I’ve learned to cope.

1. When it feels impossible to focus on anything other than my pain, I look for a distraction
When I’m suicidal, I struggle to listen to reason — I only care about relief. My emotional pain is intense and overwhelming, so much so that it’s hard to concentrate or think about anything else.

If I find that I can’t focus, I sometimes turn to my favorite TV shows, like “Friends” or “Seinfeld.” They bring me a sense of comfort and familiarity that I need in those times, and it can be a great distraction when reality gets to be too much. I know all of the episodes by heart, so I’ll usually lay there and listen to the dialogue.

It can help me pull back from my suicidal thoughts and refocus on getting through another day (or just another hour).

Sometimes all we can do is wait for the thoughts to pass and then regroup. Watching a favorite show is a great way to pass the time and keep ourselves safe.
2. When I’m convinced that everyone would be better off without me, I challenge those thoughts
My loved ones would never want me to die by suicide, but when I’m in crisis, it’s hard for me to think clearly.

There’s a voice in my head that tells me how much better off my parents would be if they didn’t need to support me financially, or if my friends didn’t have to take care of me when I’m at my worst. No one would have to answer the late-night calls and texts or come over when I’m in the midst of a breakdown — isn’t that better for everyone?

But the reality is, I’m the only one that thinks that.

My family wouldn’t recover if I died, and my loved ones know that being there for someone when things get tough is a part of life. They would rather answer those late-night calls than lose me forever, even if I struggle to believe that in the moment.

When I’m in this headspace, it usually helps to spend some time with Petey, my rescue dog. He’s my best friend and has been there through it all this past year. On most mornings, he’s the reason I get out of bed.

I know he needs me to stick around and take care of him. Since he was already abandoned once, I could never leave him. Sometimes that thought alone is enough to keep me hanging on.

Challenge your thoughts about loved ones being better off without you by not only thinking through the reality, but spending time with loved ones — pets included.
3. When I struggle to see my other options, I reach out to my therapist — or I go to sleep
Being suicidal is, in some ways, a form of total emotional exhaustion. I’m tired of having to force myself out of bed each morning, having to take all of these medications that don’t seem to be working, and crying constantly.

Struggling with your mental health day in and day out is very tiring, and when I’ve reached my limit, it can feel as though I’m just too broken — that I need a way out.

It helps to check in with my therapist, though, and be reminded of all of the progress I’ve made so far.
Instead of focusing on the step backward, I can refocus on the two steps forward I took just before that — and how other forms of treatment I haven’t tried yet can help me get back on my feet again.

On the nights when the ideations are most intense and it’s too late to check in with my therapist, I take a couple of Trazadone, which are antidepressants that can be prescribed as a sleep aid (Melatonin or Benadryl can also be used as sleep aids, and purchased over-the-counter).

I only take them when I feel unsafe and don’t want to make any impulsive decisions, and it helps to ensure that I make it through the night. In my experience, those impulsive decisions would’ve been the wrong choice, and I almost always wake up the next morning feeling a little better.

4. When I feel completely and utterly alone, I push myself to reach out
When I’m dealing with suicidal ideations, it can feel like no one understands what I’m going through, but I also don’t know how to articulate it or ask for help.

It’s hard enough to try and explain to someone why you feel the desire to die, and sometimes, even opening up just leads to feeling misunderstood.

Even if it can feel awkward or scary at first, it’s important to reach out in these moments and keep yourself safe
If I’m feeling suicidal, I know the worst thing I can do is try to go it alone. It took me a long time to work up the courage to call someone when I was feeling this way, but I’m glad I did. Calling my mom and best friends has saved my life multiple times, even if in the moment I wasn’t convinced it would.

Sometimes you have to ignore the part of your brain that tells you it isn’t worth it, and pick up the phone anyway
Now when I’m feeling suicidal, I call a friend I trust or my parents.
If I don’t feel like talking, just having someone on the other side of the phone can still be comforting. It reminds me that I’m not alone, and that I (and the choices that I make) matter to someone.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend, text the crisis hotline by texting HOME to 741741. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s nice to just get my mind off things by texting with a compassionate person.

When you’re in a depressed state, you’re not in a position to make permanent decisions, especially when there’s no one there to offer perspective. After all, depression doesn’t just affect our moods — it can affect our thoughts, too.

Suicidal ideation can be extremely scary, but you’re never alone and you’re never without options.

If you’ve run out of coping tools and you have a plan and an intent, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. There’s absolutely no shame in that, and you deserve to be supported and safe.

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what depression tells you, there’s always hope. No matter how painful it can be, I always find that I’m stronger than I think I am.

And chances are pretty good that if you’ve made it this far, you are, too.

Suicide Survivors Share Their Stories and Advice in These Photos

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Suicide rates in the United States have increased dramatically over the past 20 years. There are 129 deaths by suicide nationwide every day.Discussed less often, there are around 1.1 million attempts at suicide every year — or over 3,000 a day, on average — many of which do not end in death.Nevertheless, we often struggle to bring up suicidal thoughts with those we love, even when we know someone might be struggling, or we’re struggling ourselves.

I believe it isn’t that we don’t care, rather that we don’t have a common language to discuss such topics or an awareness of when we should reach out and how. We worry that we won’t say the right thing, or worse, that we’ll say something that’ll cause the person to act on their ideation.

In reality, asking someone directly about suicide is often a way to both help the person feel heard — and help them find the help and resources they need.

Too often discussions around suicide are controlled by those who have no personal experience with suicidal ideation or mental health.

SUICIDE PREVENTION’S MISSING VOICESWe rarely get to hear directly from those who have experienced suicidal ideation or survived a suicide attempt.

Hoping to shift that paradigm, Healthline teamed up with Forefront, a social impact center at the University of Washington that focuses on reducing suicide, empowering individuals, and building community.

Jennifer Stuber, the cofounder and director of Forefront, spoke about the program’s goals, sharing, “Our mission is to save lives [that would otherwise be] lost to suicide. The way that we think we’re going to get there is by simultaneously treating suicide as both a mental health and a public health issue.”

Stuber discussed the importance of every system, whether metal health care, physical health care, or education, having an understanding around suicide prevention and how to intervene if needed.

When asked what she’d say to those who are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, Stuber said, “You can’t possibly realize how much you’d be missed if you weren’t here because of how badly you feel. There is help and hope available. It doesn’t always work the first time around, it might take several different tries at it, but your life is worth living even if it doesn’t feel like it now.”

For those who’ve attempted suicide, it’s often difficult to find spaces to tell their stories, or people willing to listen.

We wanted to hear directly from folks personally affected by suicide in order to give a face, name, and a voice to a much too common experience.

Gabe

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Gabe shares his experience with deep depression and suicidal thoughts, and how you can help a friend in need.

On their experience with mental illness

I feel like suicidality is something that’s been an inherent part my entire life.

I think that we live in a culture that values strength and perseverance and has this very naive belief that everyone is born in the same circumstances with the same bodies with the same chemicals in their brains that work the way they’re supposed to work.

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On recovering

It’s been ultimately just being lucky enough to have good enough people in my life that are willing to talk to me till 3 a.m. or give me advice and honest feedback on stuff.

For me, if I give it time, eventually I’ll will not feel like dying and that’s time — doing the best you can.

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On how you can help people experiencing suicidal ideation

Just listen to them. Be really honest and make good boundaries about what you can and can’t hear. Be wary of silence when you know that people have been doing bad, even when people seem to be doing good.

Simone

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“No one in my family talked about depression,” Simone tells Healthline. She also talks about the added pressure of being a professional who’s both black and a woman.

On learning about depression

I think almost every single day since I was 16 until maybe earlier this year, I thought about killing myself. I didn’t understand what depression was because no one ever talked about it.

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On being a black woman with depression

There have been plenty of days where I can’t physically move from depression… [but] I can’t call out, because I’m a black woman in a professional career. I’m not allowed to be depressed. I feel like I don’t get a pass.

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On how to respond to people who are experiencing depression

[Depression] can take on so many different forms [for different people]. So you can’t just apply a blanket solution.

Jonathan

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“I’ve had plenty of suicidal thoughts over the past seven years,” shares Jonathan, who has survived two suicide attempts.

On experiencing mental illness

I’ve been in the hospital three times for depression [and suicidal thoughts] and two times after suicide attempts in the last seven years.

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On the upside of mental illness challenges

There’s a stigma with mental illness. [But] I’m definitely not ashamed of my past! If I’d never dealt with this stuff, I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I wouldn’t have figured out who I am or the person I want to be.

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On advice to people who experience suicidal ideation

I think doing what makes you happy in life is the most important. That’s why I dress the way I want. I want to show others it’s okay. Don’t let other people tell you how you should live your life.

Tamar

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“We didn’t even know the term mental health. Nobody discussed it,” Tamar reflects about her childhood. She experiences suicidal thoughts and has survived a suicide attempt.

On mental illness, homelessness, and poverty

Because I grew up homeless and lived in a lot of homeless populations, we didn’t consider people sick. Drugs, alcohol, being suicidal, being schizophrenic — that was all just normal to us.

At the time it felt like the only way out was suicide. That I didn’t have any other options, there wasn’t anybody coming to save me, there was no system that was going to swoop in and take me away from the things that were causing me pain.

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On barriers to getting help for people living in poverty

I didn’t have a framework around what [it meant] to be mentally healthy, what [it meant] to get help.

Everybody says there’s help, get help. What does that mean? There was nobody who said, “Hey look, if you don’t have the money, here’s volunteer organizations.” I got no information when I was discharged from the hospital [for attempting suicide] besides don’t do it again, find help.

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On receiving affordable help for the first time (from Open Path)

It was the first time in my life that mental health was in reach.

It was the first time someone articulated to me that [following through on suicidal thoughts] wasn’t an imperative. I didn’t have to listen to it. That was life changing for me.

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On healing

It was actually when I decided to attempt sobriety that I first even learned that idea of having a toolbox of coping mechanisms and then starting to shift it. I didn’t know there were other ways to cope with these feelings that I had.

Having an alternative to feeling suicidal was a whole new world, it was a game changer. Even if I was too depressed to get off the floor, I had a mental health tool box and a language to talk to myself that I’d never had before.

I had to learn that too, that I had become one of my own abusers. That was a revelation. I was just following in the footsteps of everyone else… Yet I want to escape from the cycle.

Making those connections made me feel like my body is a worthy vessel and that I am worthy to live in it and stay on this planet.

Jo

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Jo lost her husband, who was a veteran, to suicide in 2011, when he was 45. She now works with veteran-run organizations that work to create a community for veterans in need.

On losing her husband to suicide

My husband had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he also had what we call a “moral injury,” which I think is really important when talking about veterans. The way I’ve heard it described is that it’s basically having performed acts during your time of service that were required by your service but that go against and violate your own moral code or the code of society at large.

I think my husband suffered from tremendous guilt and neither he nor I had the tools to figure out how to process this guilt.

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Jo shares pictures of her husband and of their wedding.

On the isolation of survivors

About a year and a half after he died I quit my job as a lawyer and began to do photography because I needed something to do for my own healing.

What I experienced was profound isolation and that sense that you know, the world was out there, and everyone was moving on with their daily life, and I was on what I used to refer to as “planet my husband died by suicide.”

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On her life as a survivor of suicide

What I have come to discover is that it’s actually pretty common when you have a first-degree suicide loss like that to continue to have [suicidal] feelings yourself.

I know what’s helped me is spending a lot of time particularly with my veteran friends who have been trained in peer support and suicide prevention. It’s so helpful to have someone who can check in and say, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?” but to go further and say “Do you have a plan and do you have a date?”

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On advice to those affected by suicide

We are very antiseptic in the way we think about death and grief, particularly the taboos around suicide. When someone says “You’re very young to be a widow, what happened,” I’m always honest.

If he were around with what I know now, my message to him would have been, “You are loved unconditionally even if you never feel better than you do right now.”

There is always hope

Through organizations like Forefront, the National Suicide Prevention LifelineCrisis Text Line, and others, there’s movement towards shifting our approach to suicidality, reducing stigma, and breaking the silence.

Our hope is that the brave individuals you met above can help be a part of that movement and that breaking of silence, bringing light to a topic that is too often avoided, ignored, or stigmatized.

For those experiencing suicidality, you’re not alone, and there is always hope, even if it doesn’t feel like it now.

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, check out this list of resources, or send a text here.


Caroline Catlin is an artist, activist, and mental health worker. She enjoys cats, sour candy, and empathy. You can find her on her website.

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Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNPon February 14, 2019 New — Written by Caroline Catlin

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Sibling Suicide Survivors: The ‘Forgotten Mourners’

Author Article

“So how many brothers and sisters do you have?”

I used to dread that question. I still do, if I’m honest, but it’s a quick dull thud of emotion compared to the raging, blood-draining torrent it used to evoke in me.

The answer is always the same: one sister. But whispering in the background are the ghosts of the other two answers that come to mind (and the reasons why I can’t give them).

“One sister, one brother.” Nope, can’t go there—not technically true, even though that’s how I feel. Besides, what do I say when the inevitable next questions come: How old are they? What do they do?”

“One sister—and I used to have a brother, but he died when I was 21.” Sure, if I want to make that person really uncomfortable I can go there. I might even get to watch them visibly squirm if they ask how he died.

As even this small exchange shows, it’s a lonely experience being a siblingbereaved by suicide.

In the aftermath of my brother’s death, I waded through screeds of information on suicide, compulsively searching for I-don’t-quite-know-what. Answers? Confirmation? Connection? Where were the siblings? Where were the others like me?

When I began to research sibling suicide myself, many years later, I realised just how little has been written about us. Just ten academic studies have ever been dedicated exclusively to the experience of sibling suicide (and one is my own).

Here’s what has been found so far about the experience of living through a sibling’s suicide:

1. It’s confusing, painful and hard—with more challenges than ‘normal’bereavement.

Sibling suicide survivors have been found to experience a range of distressing and challenging phenomena. This may include:

  • A marked sense of guilt and responsibility around the death.
  • Intense anger, stemming from a deep sense of rejection and abandonment.
  • Feelings of shame and worthlessness
  • Overwhelming anxiety and fear.

It’s also common for survivors to feel relief, if the death marks the end of a long period of worry and uncertainty. This tends to fuel further guilt, creating an ongoing cycle of emotional disturbance.

As can be expected given this litany of psychological challenges, sibling suicide survivors are at particular risk of developing complicated grief reactions, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. They’re also at an increased risk of taking their own lives.

2. Siblings suffer intensely—and they also tend to suffer invisibly.

In a family bereaved by suicide, each person becomes too preoccupied with their own pain to offer meaningful support to the others. Under these circumstances the surviving siblings “often find themselves not only neglected, but expected to put their needs aside in order to spare their parents further distress” (Rakic, 1992, p. 2).

Many grieving siblings try to appear “emotionally together” or even cheerful around their parents, despite their own intense pain. They usually experience a desperate desire to make their parents happy again, and the message to “be strong for your Mum and Dad” tends to be given by others implicitly, explicitly, and often. The siblings’ demeanour is then perceived as evidence that the surviving children have not been badly affected by the loss, making them even less likely to receive care and validation.

In addition, the presence of anger towards the dead sibling—let alone its expression—is usually viewed as highly inappropriate and unacceptable, even in families that can speak relatively freely about emotions.

3. There’s usually no space to talk within the family—and nowhere to talk outside of it either.

The sense of isolation siblings experience is exacerbated to varying degrees by the social stigma around suicide, which makes discussing the death with people outside the family very challenging. It’s still common for people who end their lives to be disparaged as “selfish” and “cowardly.” Research has also shown that suicidally bereaved families receive less community support compared to families that lose a member to “natural” causes, and may be avoided and/or blamed for the death.

Many siblings described being extremely hurt by the actions of those they hoped would support them following the suicide. Some friends abandoned them altogether, while others silenced them with platitudes, told them they “shouldn’t feel like that,” or acted as though the death had never happened. Some siblings spoke of friendships ending due to impatience that the siblings “still weren’t over it,” while others said they deliberately withdrew from their friends. After what they had been through, they found themselves experiencing their peers as immature, unempathetic and/or focused on trivial concerns.

Even when friends are available and supportive, siblings may feel pressure to swallow their hurt to avoid awkwardness. They may also stigmatise themselves negatively due to guilt, and self-isolate out of shame.

4. The loss can cast a very long shadow, affecting the siblings’ sense of security in the future, in relationships, and in life itself.

A sibling’s suicide can severely damage any sense of trust in the stability of meaningful relationships. If your brother or sister—one of your absolute constants in life—can leave like this, anything feels possible and very little feels secure. Research shows that:

  • Numerous siblings became preoccupied with the fear of losing other loved ones to death or being abandoned by them.
  • Many worried that the tragedy of the suicide would be repeated in their own future families. Two academics noted a deep sense of ‘maternal inadequacy’ amongst some of the female siblings, who avoided having the children they longed for out of fear and conflicted feelings related to the loss.
  • Some older siblings felt they had relived the loss in their romantic relationships—entering unsatisfying or painful pairings which ultimately resulted in their being abandoned or let down again.

5. Many siblings eventually create meaningful, purposeful lives out of this emotional nightmare—with a greater sense of perspective and empathy.

During research interviews, many sibling suicide survivors spoke of experiencing a profound shift in perspective over time. Many became involved in suicide prevention activities and some chose to become counsellors or therapists, dedicating their lives to helping others survive their emotional struggles. They spoke of valuing the increased compassion and empathy their life experiences had given them, even though they had suffered profoundly.

This has been my own experience, though nobody could have told me at the time without getting their head bitten off. It makes writing about sibling suicide bereavement a tough ask, knowing that while you are in the experience—angry, guilty, isolated, broken-hearted or just broken depending on the day—it’s so hard to take in even the tiniest sliver of hope that things could ever be better.

But in time, they will. Take it from someone who never, ever believed it when it was said to me.

 

Suicide Memes Might Actually Be Therapeutic

Author Article
By 

In a recent post to the popular meme-sharing platform 9gag, two side-by-side storybook illustrations depict a girl watching snowflakes fall outside her bedroom window. The left panel is titled “kids then”: In a thought bubble, the girl wistfully muses, “I sure hope they cancel school for all this snow.” The right panel is “kids now.” The girl looks at the snow outside and thinks, “I hope a car loses traction on the ice and rams into me and I fucking die tomorrow.”

This is a joke—and apparently a very relatable one for its target demographic, the millions of Generation Y and Z digital natives for whom memes are a mother tongue. A casual scroll on 9gag, which receives 3.5 billion page views a month, will turn up dozens of memes daily about self-harm or wanting to die, and young people are sharing, retweeting, and reblogging similar content across the social-media landscape. You’ll find storybook illustrations doctored to show children dreaming of grisly deaths, SpongeBob joyfully flailing to his doom during a bank stickup, and Obama about to throw himself off a bridge.

At first blush, these jokes couldn’t be in poorer taste. The World Health Organization ranks suicide as the second leading cause of death for youth worldwide. In the United States, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed staggering 70 and 77 percent increases in suicide rates of white and black teens, respectively, between 2006 and 2016. In response, public-health officials and tech giants alike have been cracking down on potentially dangerous messaging on self-harm. Last Friday, Instagram rolled out a new policy banning “graphic” depictions of self-harm or suicide.

But memes about suicide remain largely uncharted territory. While disturbing, they’re far less graphic than actual depictions. And they’re often darkly funny. As the gatekeepers of social media are wrestling with how to police this trend, some suicide-prevention experts see a window of opportunity. Typically, suicide memers aren’t mocking suicidal thoughts; they’re commiserating and bonding over being suicidal. Morbid memes, these experts believe, may be a foot in the door to one of the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations: socially isolated young people.


April Foreman is a seasoned veteran of the dark web. As a licensed psychologist and executive board member at the American Association of Suicidology, she’s clicked through the foulest content on the internet to keep tabs on the volatile and high-risk souls that live there.

Foreman wasn’t surprised when suicide memes began to percolate up into the surface-level internet after a long incubation period in more hostile and conspiracy-laden depths (see: 4chan). In a way, she’s heartened by the memes’ increased social acceptability. Like so many anonymous platforms, 9gag struggles with pervasive racism, misogyny, and old-fashioned trolling. But while the predictable “lol, do it” replies pepper the comment sections to suicide memes, messages of support tend to be buoyed to the top by hundreds of upvotes. Internet scamps with usernames like necrolovertown gently direct suicide-meme posters to local suicide hotlines (or, in necrolovertown’s case, provide his Facebook contact info and a standing offer to chat—“any hour anytime I’ll be there”).

What we’re witnessing on 9gag, Foreman explains, is the writing of a new “social script.” Sometimes it’s tough to know what to say, “like if someone’s dog dies, or if you have to go to a funeral.” But through experience, communities develop a formula for how to respond supportively—something like, “‘Dude, that’s rough. I’ve gone through it. Here are the resources, let me know if you need support,’” Foreman says. Foreman has identified several corners of the internet that seem to have healthy social scripts for suicidal thoughts. “Reddit communities around certain video games”—like the Eve Online universe’s Broadcast 4 Reps—“tend to have communities where you talk about your mental health and you feel better. People help you.”

Still, Foreman cautions, destructive conversations about suicide abound deeper in the bowels of the internet. “We have people that go in there as trolls to really stir people up and make them feel worse,” she says. They make “‘sui-fuel,’ memes to get people even more depressed, with the idea that you might ‘rope’—which is kill yourself—or you might even go and do a murder-suicide.”

Foreman’s colleague Bart Andrews, another clinical psychologist and executive board member at the American Association of Suicidology, is a full-throated advocate for suicide memes as an alternative to these destructive depths. Andrews bucks the traditional wisdom on suicide contagion, the idea that suicidal thoughts can spread through a community like a virus. It’s an evidence-based notion that’s been widely unchallenged for decades, and informs national and internationalguidelines for media coverage of suicide. Andrews acknowledges that irresponsible reporting of suicide—such as sensationalistic, needlessly graphic descriptions of celebrity suicide—likely has population-level effects. But if safe-messaging guidelines prevent people from having meaningful conversations, Andrews contends, they can be deadly.

“The very people we’re trying to reach, the youth—we’re telling them they can’t talk about suicide the way they talk about it,” Andrews says. “When you read the threads on these memes, people find them helpful. They don’t feel alone. It’s a way for them to anonymously communicate their inner pain in a way that’s artistic, super clever, and that people who are struggling identify with.”

Andrews believes that decades of an effective “gag rule” on suicide stifled conversation and perpetuated stigma—and that while the younger generations are more willing to talk, there’s still a vestigial wariness among listeners that the very act of discussing suicide could make their friends worse. He rattles off a list of meme formats that emphasize hope or resilience. Perennial favorites are not today, old friend, where Moe from The Simpsons decides not to kill himself, and my mom would be sad. “They get at reasons for living,” Andrews says. “And those can be really small.”


Another camp of suicide-prevention experts prefers to err on the side of caution. Jane Pirkis, the director of the center for mental health at the University of Melbourne and an expert on suicide-contagion theory, is the traditionalist yin to Andrews’ laissez-faire yang when it comes to safe messaging. “I wouldn’t say I’m alarmed, but I don’t think it’s very good,” she told me after reviewing a handful of 9gag memes. “The work we’ve done looking at traditional media definitely shows that representation that normalizes suicide or glorifies it at all can lead to so-called copycat acts.”

Pirkis concedes that the bulk of the scientific literature on contagion came from the pre-internet age, but she insists those lessons carry into social media. “They’re very basic, Psychology 101 principles about modeling behavior, and people learning what’s normal, what’s likely to get a response,” she says. “That’s why you don’t see depictions of smoking in film and television anymore.”

This conversation around suicide memes is complicated by a generation gap between suicide-prevention experts and the communities they serve. I talked with several mental-health experts who were well beyond the age of the average memer and entirely unaware that suicide memes exist. Once they recovered from the initial surprise at this undercurrent of dark humor, however, they warmed to the idea that memes about suicide could have a capacity to heal.

These experts emphasize that it’s a fine line between destigmatizing suicidal thoughts and normalizing them. The right messages can let people know they’re not alone and that it’s okay to reach out for help. But overexposure could, in theory, lead to the belief that thoughts about self-harm are normal and not a cause for concern. Further muddying the waters, the very meme that could inspire one teen to call a psychiatrist could dredge up painful memories of a prior attempt in someone else.

There’s a dearth of experimental research on how people respond to nongraphic content about suicide, so social-media platforms are left to cobble together their own policies through high-stakes trial and error. The changes to Instagram’s self-harm policy last week, for instance, were reportedly spurred by the death of a 14-year-old in the United Kingdom. Most social-media outlets draw the line at text, image, and video that appear to encourage suicide or self-harm. FacebookTumblr, and Instagram have “hot words” associated with self-harm that automatically trigger messages to users about mental health and links to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of crisis hotlines that offer free counseling around the clock. But since image-based memes are hard for AI to parse, platforms generally rely on users to report sensitive material that isn’t simply text-based.

Foreman points to Tumblr as a platform that’s getting it right. Tumblr partners with mental-health advocacy groups, like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and reviews every post reported with the “self-harm” flag, according to Victoria McCullough, the company’s head of social impact and public policy. Depending on the post itself and its reception by the community, Tumblr might remove abusive responses, remove the post itself, or refer the creator to additional mental-health resources. McCullough says the company is very cautious about removing content altogether for fear of “undermining those recovery conversations.”

9gag only added a tag specific to self-harm in the past several months. “Personally, I don’t think any community can claim that users’ comments are 100% positive at all times. There’s no such thing in life either. LOL,” 9gag’s COO, Lilian Leong, told me via email. “Of course, we can always level up our filtering measures. But we are very cautious not to get over-engineered and overkilled.”

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, 9gag is a single-scroll platform; regardless of a user’s previous activity on the site, everyone sees the same grab bag of memes. What’s on the ‘hot’ and ‘trending’ pages is determined by users’ upvotes and any editorial choices 9gag makes. Leong did not respond to questions about specific curation decisions—like why users couldn’t search the tag suicide, but could search kill myselfand suicidal—or describe the decision-making process behind the removal of a sensitive post. In the days following our exchange, however, 9gag plugged all the holes in its search system pertaining to self-harm.


At the end of my reporting for this story, I posted on 9gag asking users to talk about their experience with memes about suicide. You can see the full threads here and here. The replies were a case study of what happens when a diverse community is left all but unsupervised in their reactions to suicide memes.

Some users like dracothedragon told me to “F.O.A.D.”—or “fuck off and die.” But most shared stories about how suicide memes sparked feelings of belonging amid isolation. @angry_doge42 said, “I tried so hard to gather the courage to end it. But I remember this post about how this random dude from the other side of the planet turned his life around after surviving the attempt and was now doing his own thing (I think, making candles). Gave up trying to knock myself haha. You guys maybe pricks but most of y’all are awesome.”@streethastle wasn’t going to let me off easy: “You’re going to set people up with false hope if you’re really going to pull through with a naive article filled with cherry picked examples of ‘supportive’ comments. This website is a fucking cesspool of social degenerates.” But @infexo rushed to my aid. “I don’t see any harm in shedding light on the positive side of 9gag, because like it or not, it does exist … And a few lines coming out from a caring heart can change drastically a [tragic] act.”

Pirkis, the University of Melbourne mental-health expert, agreed with @infexo, saying it’s a deadly myth that only professionals can help people at risk of suicide. “This great unwashed population that we’re talking about has a role to play,” she says.

Foreman and her colleagues at the American Association of Suicidology look forward to seeing the dialogue expand around suicide memes, however inelegantly. “I’ve never known a single problem that got better by not talking about it,” Foreman says. “Not a single public-health problem has gotten better by reducing conversation.”

 

 

The Role of Mental Illness in Mass Shootings, Suicides

See Author Article Here
By Amy Swearer

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the horrific Parkland school shooting. That tragedy sparked an intense national debate over how best to protect our children from school shootings.

Some have pushed for more restrictions on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. Among them are the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. These groups released a new set of proposals on Monday that they say “can prevent mass shooting incidents and help end gun violence in American schools.”

Unfortunately, these proposals miss the mark by neglecting to focus on the real problems, including, among other things, the role of mental illness in certain types of firearm-related violence.

How does serious mental illness factor in? And what steps can government take to mitigate the role of untreated mental illness in producing violent threats?

These questions merit deliberate, thoughtful examination, not reflexive calls for broad gun control.

For that reason, The Heritage Foundation recently published a legal memorandum, “Mental Illness, Firearms, and Violence,” as part of a series of papers by John Malcolm and myself exploring some of these deeper issues.

The paper makes clear that, while most mentally ill individuals are not and never will become violent, certain types of serious mental illness—especially when untreated—are associated with a higher prevalence of certain types of firearm-related violence.

In particular, individuals with serious mental illness are at a greater risk of committing suicide and are responsible for a disproportionate number of mass public killings.

Mass Public Shootings

There’s no evidence that all mentally ill people constitute a “high risk” population with respect to interpersonal violence, including firearm-related violence against others.

In fact, most studies indicate that mental illness is responsible for only a small fraction (about 3 percent to 5 percent) of all violent crimes committed in the United States every year, and most of those episodes of violence are committed by individuals who are not currently receiving mental health treatment.

There is, however, a strong connection between acts of mass public violence—including mass public shootings—and untreated serious mental illness.

While acts of mass public violence are extraordinary and rare occurrences, they are often high-profile events that deeply affect the national view of violent crime trends. Mass public shootings in particular stoke national conversations on gun violence and gun control, for understandable reasons.

The majority of all mass public killers (some studies estimate as many as two-thirds) likely suffered from a serious mental illness prior to their attacks, and often displayed clear signs of delusional thinking, paranoia, or irrational feelings of oppression associated with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar-related psychosis.

This includes many individuals who committed atrocious attacks on students, including the Parkland shooter, the Virginia Tech shooter, and the Sandy Hook shooter—all of whom had long histories of untreated mental health problems.

Unfortunately, hardly any of these individuals were receiving psychiatric treatment at the time of their attacks.

Even without access to firearms, individuals with untreated serious mental illness can and do find ways to commit mass public killings.

Activist groups and politicians who point to mass public shootings as a reason for broad restrictions on firearm access by the general public largely miss the underlying reality: The real problem is not the prevalence of firearms among the general public, but the prevalence of untreated serious mental illness that causes some individuals to become violent in catastrophic ways, regardless of lawful access to firearms.

Suicide

The most significant link between mental illness and firearm-related violence is suicide, which accounts for almost two-thirds of all annual firearm-related deaths in the United States.

Of course, not every suicide is necessarily related to an underlying mental illness, but there is little doubt that the presence of a mental illness substantially increases a person’s risk for committing suicide.

The most common method of suicide in the U.S. is through the use of a firearm, an unsurprising reality given that the U.S. has the highest per-capita number of privately owned firearms in the world.

Despite the nation’s exceptionally high rate of suicide by firearm, however, it does not have a particularly high overall suicide rate, compared with other countries.

Our national suicide rate stands at roughly the world average and is comparable to the rate experienced by many European countries with significantly lower rates of private firearm ownership.

At the same time, a number of countries with severely restrictive gun control laws have much higher rates of suicide than the United States, including Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, and South Korea.

The connection between general measures of firearm access and general suicide rates is limited, at best. The U.S. suicide rate has remained relatively stable over the past 50 years, even though the number of guns per capita has doubled.

Moreover, the percentage of suicides committed with firearms has actually decreased since 1999, even though the number of privately owned firearms has increased by more than 100 million.

As this data suggests, broad restrictions on firearm access are unlikely to have a meaningful effect on general suicide rates, and there are other socioeconomic factors beyond firearm availability that better account for differences in suicide rates.

These factors largely include measures of “social cohesion,” such as divorce rates, unemployment, poverty, past trauma, and family structure, and it’s increasingly clear that more socially integrated communities also tend to have lower suicide rates.

Access to firearms may, however, exacerbate the danger for people who are already at a heightened risk for committing suicide. For example, when individuals have a serious mental illness, access to firearms appears to increase their risk of committing suicide.

But it’s also more complicated: While individuals with serious mental illness may have an increased risk of committing suicide when they have ready access to firearms, they may also be less likely than the general population to commit suicide with firearms.

Why? Because they often have greater barriers to legal firearm access, including disqualifying mental health histories under state or federal law, and concerned friends or family members who may limit their unsupervised access to firearms.

Several studies suggest, then, that reducing unsupervised access to all commonly employed means of suicide (including firearms, but also sharp objects, medications, and rope material) for at-risk persons reduces their individual risk of suicide.

In short, broad limitations on firearm access for individuals who are not necessarily at heightened risk for committing suicide are unlikely to meaningfully affect overall suicide rates and should be viewed with a heavy dose of skepticism, but policies designed to limit firearm access for individuals with serious mental illness may be an important step in the right direction for reducing state and national suicide rates.

Policy Implications

It is clear that mental illness—especially untreated serious mental illness—plays a significant role in certain types of firearm-related violence that cannot be ignored.

This is not to suggest that individuals with mental illness should be treated as community pariahs or that they are even the cause of most firearm-related violence in the United States. But any holistic approach to reducing suicide and violent crime rates in our communities must account for the role played by serious mental illness.

The reduction of suicide rates requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all of the various factors related to suicide risk, including mental illness, socioeconomic variations, and access to a support system.

Similarly, policies to reduce the rate of mass public shootings in the United States must account for the significant role played by untreated serious mental illness in such killings.

The broad-scale disarmament of the general population is an inappropriate and unnecessary substitute for dealing with the underlying problems.

At work the other day, a sickening howl came out of an office near mine. It was guttural. Primal. Unfortunately familiar. A few years ago, it was me making that sound at work and I had made it many times before. It is the howl of those left behind after a suicide. It is a […]

via Silent Screams – Suicide Facts and Help — Queen Bee Living

There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors. – Tennessee Williams Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the pressure upon you, it doesn’t bode […]

via Suicide, the fall of many — Finally Unchained

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