Last night I got into a texting conversation about the day with someone who happens to work in a hospital. Kristine was talking to me about her day. Unlike me, she is well suited for a hospital work. She does not fault or become exceedingly uncomfortable at the sight of illness, blood and physical suffering.
Kristine mentioned that she had a very tough day, however. She came face-to-face in the ER with five individuals who attempted suicide. Of the five, Kristine was responsible for staying with four of the patients as they were triaged. Three were young girls, all 12, who tried to take their own lives yesterday.
And, as if that was not terrible enough, Kristine mentioned how one of the 12 year olds was a “beautiful Hispanic girl who did not have any family or friends come and support her”. This was very upsetting and as a mother who adores her daughter, I could not contain the tears that roled down my cheek. She went on to tell me that they were all becoming in-patients, which was probably very much for the best.
Suicide, and overall mental health, is incredibly uncomfortable for people to talk about and as a society, it seems like many of us try to keep our heads in the sand. This, plainly, has to change.
When my daughter was growing up, a beautiful young girl who she mentored for a year or two committed suicide. I never knew this beautiful soul personally, but I remember the pain my daughter suffered as she tried to make sense of a situation, which made no sense at all, especially since this young girl was popular and was not bullied at school.
Another time, I was having a Sunday morning cup of coffee with my mother when I heard a thunderous crashing clap on the lower roof of my building. I will never forget the sound to this day. Then, I heard the shout of a man screaming, “Oh, my God”. I still remember the tone of his voice as if it was yesterday.
When my mother and I ran to the kitchen window, there was the body of a man who had thrown himself out the 11th floor window. That day changed my life as I made the call to emergency services and fire, building and police officials went in and out of my apartment trying to access his body.
I remember I suffered with the horror of a stranger literally falling into my life-and his death. It was only when I spoke to a therapist about the drama and trauma of the day that I came to an understanding that this individual literally “crashed” into my life and, for that, I would have to work through all the emotions. Suicide, I have learned, can affect many people, even strangers, beyond those known to the person who has died.
Here are the cold, hard facts about suicide:
* According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide in the US is increasing. Out of the top 10 reasons for death of Americans, including cancer, suicide was the only cause that continues to increase.
* In 2013, there were 41,149 suicides in the United States and it is the second leading cause of death for 15 – 24 year olds. And, the World Health Organization (WHO) states globally there are over 800,000 suicides each year, which translates to one death in the world every 40 seconds.
* Every single day in the US, approximately 105 succeeded at killing themselves.
* According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), only half of Americans experiencing depression get treatment.
* The highest rate of suicide in the US was for those between the ages of 45 and 64.
Here's another fact with suicide; it's preventable. Sadly, probably not 100% of the time, but certainly enough to save more lives.
Last year, we lost the very talented and brilliant Robin Williams to suicide. It opens the door, sadly, to speak about suicide, prevention and mental health. The discussion must continue. Depression and trying to prevent a suicide are incredibly difficult subjects to address. But, for the sake of our collective humanity, we have no choice but to understand the warning signs and help if and when we are faced with it in our own lives.
In other words, you may think you will never face someone in the midst of a deep depression, a suicide attempt or a suicide itself-until you do.
For immediate help in the United States: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
For immediate help around the world: International Association for Suicide Prevention.